There’s lots of talk about “engaging experiences” and the “connected consumer” out there. One of the biggest misconceptions that crops up in this kind of thinking is people “love” brands.

Of course it’s nice to imagine that people like your business. But focusing on brand love has misled plenty of companies into thinking that “nice” design alone will lead down the road to success. If only it were that simple.

Without a clear plan, it’s easy for branding projects to become a bit like like polishing a car with no engine. When you hire a designer to help you, remember that you hired them not just to design something, but to design the right thing.

They’re just not that into you

Designing the right thing starts with taking a step out into the real world and focusing on people. Out here you’ll find that love for brands is actually pretty thin on the ground. For example – someone who drinks coffee won’t think twice about using Nescafe, Kenco, Starbucks and Costa.

At best most people have a mild preference for one brand over another. So trying to get them to love one of them is a bit like pushing a boulder up a big hill. Instead, the smart money is on helping them find and choose you more often.

Don’t be shy

Once you’re free from worrying if people like or love you, you can get back to the principles of attracting customers.

Of course that means getting people’s attention – not just of those who already know you, but of those who don’t care about you at all. As you know, if people don’t care then the creative bar has to be set really high. This is a perfect reminder of why doing imaginative, creative and well designed marketing isn’t just a nice optional extra for most businesses.

The first step on the road to a great brand is to carve out a rock-solid position in the market. A good position should just be a few words, it should be different from your competition and it should be opinionated (for example “The world’s favourite airline.”) This isn’t the place for compromise, so you should avoid vanilla phrases like “commitment to customer satisfaction” or “striving for excellence” at all costs.

What’s your position?

The cosmetics brand Lush is a good example of this in action. Their position is “Fresh handmade,” which is rooted in their opinions on using natural ingredients in their hand made products. That position allows them to stand out because it also translates across into their brand identity and the “handwritten” signs in-store.

A brand love advocate might say that the distinctive design or the handwritten signs don’t make people choose Lush. But that’s not the point. Those elements are the reason people know they are looking at Lush “stuff” quickly and easily, instead of some other generic brand.

Done right a distinctive brand can become a shortcut (in this case for natural cosmetics.) But this isn’t Lush trying to build brand love – instead they are trying to build brand preference.

Hidden strength

Once the door of brand preference is open, you can take extra steps to build trust around your company.

For example – Dyson is the strongest vacuum cleaner brand in the UK by some distance. Do people actually love hoover brands? I’d guess not. But the strengths of this particular brand means people often instinctively think that Dyson represents quality, even if they know nothing about the product.

You can probably picture a strong brand preference in action just by imagining you’re about to buy a vacuum cleaner. If you’re like most people you’ll probably think “hmmmm should I get a Dyson or one of the others?” The strength of the brand is already influencing your decision without you even knowing it.

Summing up

So don’t waste your money trying to get people to love your brand. Chance are people are going to buy from your competitors anyway.

Instead, focus your efforts on being interesting to everyone – but especially to those who don’t know who you are. That means standing for something and building a strong position to build on. Inspired by that, a great brand identity, attention grabbing design and crystal clear communication can all help more people find (and ultimately choose) your brand.

So as it turns out, brands are actually much more important in a world where nobody loves them.

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