Most brand managers want their brand to evoke strong feelings. We naturally want our customers to like the brand, to feel attached to it. Books have been written and careers have been built on the idea of brand love. But let’s be honest: as a human being, rather than a marketer, how many brands do you really care about? Love?

When Coca Cola changed its formulation in the 1980s, Americans rose up in horror, in a way I don’t think we would ever see here. We seem to prefer brands we can visit, rather than those we eat or drink. Marks & Spencer used to be a national treasure – a position John Lewis is now vying for, primarily wielding the weapon of sentimentality. It’s a clever ploy. Not even Richard Dawkins is against children having a happy Christmas.

Luxury brands seem to evoke strong feelings too. We could do all the deep psychological stuff about outer directed and inner directed values, badge value and self-worth, and all that, but there’s also a very simple reason. We pay more for them so we invest more in them, literally and emotionally. And, we expect more of them because we pay more for them.

A consequence of this is that the bar is set even higher for luxury brands when it comes to meeting our expectations. Of course, rationally, we expect expensive things to last longer, perform better, or look nicer than cheap ones. But emotionally too we expect our investment to be recognised – not just by others but by the brand itself. We expect respect. Apple do this well – I always feel they will stand behind their name on any product I buy, and won’t quibble or try to weasel out of taking responsibility if something goes wrong.

I’m not sure the people involved in luxury brands always realise this. A friend had a TAG Heuer watch which stopped working. He was quoted almost the price of a new one to get it fixed, and was told the problem was he hadn’t had it serviced by them. No, I hadn’t heard of having your watch serviced either – and neither had he, not even when he had taken it to TAG Heuer to get the battery replaced. This is the sort of “gotcha!” approach to customer service that gives the insurance business a bad name.

Luxury cars are at it too. They’re pretty good at seduction – that Jaguar ad with the English villains makes the F-type a car to dream of. But there’s a problem right now with some luxury cars – expensive 4x4s and others like the Jaguar XF that have diesel engines. The particulate filter on the diesel engine, which is required by law, fills up and stops the car. Some car owners have been told the problem is their “driving profile”. Apparently you need to drive at a steady 50mph for at least 15 minutes at a time to stop this from happening. Town driving really doesn’t suit this engine. This feels to me a lot like the manufacturer blaming the customer for using the product. If you’ve paid forty grand for a car, you decide how you’ll drive it! Better that they come clean and admit this is a first generation technology that isn’t working properly. Mistakes happen; blaming the customer is rarely a wise tactic.

The moral of this tale? Forget about brand love. Aiming to “surprise and delight” your customers is another popular aim but even that is asking a lot. Simply knowing what customers value, what they expect, and delivering that, would do nicely. What we expect as customers is largely a product of what the brand promises, and the more we pay, the more we expect. When a brand meets our expectations, consistently, well, we tend to become rather fond of it. Love your customers, and they may love you back.

Comment | November 2014