Brand loyalty

Or creating stories that people care about

I was arguing recently that branding is a much misused and misunderstood term. And I’d be the first to admit that the misunderstanding may well start in my own mind, let alone anyone else’s. But my point to my colleagues was that people – in whatever walk of life – only ever recommend a product, service (or, by extension, a brand) if they have a compelling personal story to tell. It’s the only way that emotional links are built – and the only way that any kind of loyalty is created.

Whether it’s the story of how a trendsetter discovered an obscure band/restaurant/designer/artist or whether it’s a story of exceptional customer service as this story about car insurance from The Motley Fool shows. And it starts with a problem or crisis – that’s where all stories have to start, if they’re to come out with a memorable and positive result. (When was the last time you heard a story that started "Everything went really smoothly and nothing out of the ordinary happened" that was even interesting, let alone memorable?)

Similarly, John Moore, who writes the excellent The Ourhouse Weblog, was travelling with Tim Kitchin to Sweden on BA, when as Tim recounts here:

And then… something truly magical happens. The stewardess Claire (Wilkinson?) comes up to me and my MutualMarketing companion John Moore and fellow traveller Luke Nicholson of Ethical Media fame, and says (drum roll here):

"We’ve read your questionnaire.
Thankyou. Great feedback. Very interesting.
I wanted to talk to you about what we do in CSR.
BA has an active programme enabling staff to participate in ethical initiatives on an unpaid basis.
Here’s what we’ve done in Africa…
I think I’ve heard of your web-site (NB. This is of course unlikely to be true! #;?} )
I will go to your web-site. This has been a helpful discussion."

So Claire, if you’re visiting and reading this, tell somebody who thinks they matter in BA that you just humanised the BA brand for me overnight.

This really matters. Their future rests upon it. So please make this happen again and again. You went beyond service, and showed me a glimpse of your personal brand intent. BA the monolith just peeked beyond branding. Beautiful.

So thankyou Claire and thankyou, BA.

Again, it’s merely a personal story – but one that spreads. It’s how word of mouth starts. But it has to start first with the individual on the receiving formulating the activity into a personal narrative – and one that stands out from the crowd, either because it defies expectations or (too often with negative stories) because it reinforces them.

As organisations, individuals and societies if we want to create word of mouth, build brands and create customer loyalty, we must focus not on communicating some subset of abstract values, but in creating opportunities for personal stories to be formed. And they are formed only in the exceptions. That’s what we must create. Over and over again.

I never said it was going to be easy…