Alex Steer

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Why do brands want to be loved so much?

684 words | ~3 min

At the launch of Windows 10 this week, Microsoft's CEO said something rather strange:

We want to move from people needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows.

I imagine we're being asked to think of this as a virtuous progression: from needing, to choosing, to loving. But clearly it isn't. It's a state of affairs that's come about because people manifestly no longer need Microsoft products, and have to a large extent stopped choosing them. Love, rather than being the crowning glory, is the last resort.

So is making people love your brand a good starting point for a market share fightback? (Because this is, after all, a marketing move rather than anything more profound.) The evidence suggests that it isn't.

Even if we get past the fact that people don't think much about brands at all except when confronted with their advertising or considering a purchase, what proportion of a brand's users do you think profess to love it? In brand research speak, brand lovers are what we'd call highly bonded - people who say yes to pretty much every question from 'I sometimes use this brand' right up to 'I would only ever choose this brand', 'this brand reflects me and my lifestyle', etc. For almost all brands, in all categories, these users are a tiny share - enough to make the commercial significance of brand lovers almost irrelevant.

In other words, as a brand, most of your money comes from people who just think your product is fine. People to whom it's fairly clear what you are and what you offer, who think you offer it at a fair price, and who haven't had too many bad experiences with your brand. They are not loyal, most of them also buy your competitors' brands from time to time.

Yes, there are some people who love your brand, and these people are likely to buy your brand much more often. But the strongest differentials in brand love are normally seen in high-cost categories with a low replacement rate - computers and cars, not baked beans and bananas. People who love iPhones don't buy ten times as many iPhones as people who just think iPhones are good. Purchases by the indifferent outweigh purchases by the passionate to a huge extent.

You don't win by inspiring love songs and poetry. You win by being the default setting in someone's mind. You win by being the brand that they reach for on the shelf when they have no time, little energy and no inclination to think about what their brand of dishwasher salts says about them as a person.

Is that depressing? It shouldn't be - it should be a challenge. Because it is a lot harder to become the mental default for millions of people, than it is to become an object of love for a few thousand. It requires more dedication, more creativity, more humanity, and more discipline in creating good products and services that don't let people down, setting a fair price for them, and communicating them to the world in ways that chip through people's enormous busy indifference.

Don't start with love, in other words. Start with earning the right to be chosen, then earning a reputation for being a little better, a little different. Use creative advertising to set the mental fuses that will go off when someone is looking to buy one of the kinds of things you make.

Microsoft have a huge starting advantage here - millions of users who have logged billions of hours of good-enough experiences with most of their products. It's worth remembering that Microsoft is the world's fourth most valuable brand (source, pdf). But they also have the huge challenge that we spend a lower proportion of our time with their hardware and software than we used to. Assuming they can get back to making great products, the first marketing challenge is not to create love - it is one again to create habits.

# Alex Steer (24/01/2015)