Brand Love in the 21st Century: A Guide

What is brand love? It has often been considered the last stage in the customer journey or marketing funnel, measured by how many engagements, likes or shares a brand has been able to deliver from their ‘fans’. Sometimes, advertisers like to use competitions to tick this box. But is this love?

Brand love is really just another name for brand loyalty, and though we know people are less loyal towards brands in the digital age, being more likely to switch brands than ever before, when we get it right people are not only more likely to select a product based on features over price but are also more likely to recommend the brand to friends and family.

Research has shown that 20% of your most successful inputs deliver 80% of your total outputs (results and rewards) meaning your top customers will deliver the majority of your business goals. We also know it’s generally more efficient to retain customers than it is to acquire new customers. Either way, what’s really important is growing your brand and when there’s no clear distinction in your product or service with your competitors, people will revert to how you are positioned physically and emotionally in their mind when considering parting with their cash. Indeed, research from market research company GfK suggests brands that build more positive emotional relationships and increase affinity with the user are more likely to accelerate brand growth.

Helpfully, Kantar has suggested six ways that brands could be more loving. These are not as flaky as I would have thought and also align closely with the DMAs seven drivers of brand loyalty – both studies found that the functional needs were the strongest.

Here I have outlined the different drivers from the Kantar research and used a case study of an advertiser I think has done a good job of executing this recently in the digital age.

  1. Exceeds needs – do something no other brand does or do it better. Be distinctive.

Spotify is one such example of a brand that has really built on its communications strategy to offer people something they can’t get through other music streaming services. Within the platform they use the knowledge of their curators to build playlists to keep people up to date on all the latest music from a given genre. They partner with other platforms and companies such as Uber to be able to offer users the ability to play music throughout their ride. They have also released annotated playlists which give people the ability to listen to playlists which have commentary from those who have curated, adding another dimension of listening to a selection of music.

  1. Build trust – customise experience based on personalisation.

O2 has taken the idea of the super-fan a little further with Priority Moments, a reward programme where O2 are able to customise their rewards to their customers based on real-time insights, resulting in reduced churn, saving the company millions of pounds. Since then Sky has also released a similar loyalty scheme called Sky VIP where the longer you stay subscribed to services the better and more tailored the rewards become. They have taken the original loyalty card system and incentivised it with offers and products that are relevant to you.

  1. Set trends – Being innovative, not just through your product but through each touch point.

IKEA is one such brand that has innovation in its DNA, from store layout or flat pack assembly to its catalogue. Not only has it created an AR version of its catalogue, but it recently produced a pregnancy kit from a print ad offering a heavy discount for those who are expecting a baby.

  1. Share values – don’t just say what you believe in – acting on your values will drive brand love.

Many charities have an opportunity to do this, but few do it as well as Greenpeace who has proved it is willing to act on what it stands for. The charity’s latest campaign, which I helped plan at The Kite Factory, aimed to stop dirty palm oil being used by large corporations with the help of Rang Tan the Orangutan. As well as teaming up with Iceland to amplify the story of Rang Tan, Greenpeace went a step further by parading a large mechanical version of Rang Tan round London to extend the campaign story, really showing people it supported the cause on a deeper level than a mere ad campaign.

  1. Elevates experiences – making the extraordinary your everyday experience.

Uber is one such company doing this. The company has taken the experience of booking a taxi through an app and has expanded with the creation of Uber Eats, which enables people to use the same technology to order food from restaurants. Much like booking a car, users can decide what food they want from which restaurant as well as understanding how much it will cost and how long it will take to deliver. The experience of booking a taxi or ordering food has now been elevated to a new level.

  1. Respect consumers – Ensuring your brand fits in to the life of your customer, not the other way around.

Adidas understands that time is precious and instead of trying to steal a customer’s attention, the company wants to earn it by asking its fans for their opinions before creating new products, services or campaigns. Adidas trialled this with its WhatsApp messenger strategy by allowing superfans to have opinions and buy new stock before it was released.


With more people becoming less patient, being more sceptical and increasing their reliance on recommendations from peers, advertisers really need to think about displaying more affection to their customers by showing that they are useful, distinctive and do the right thing.

A combination of salience and visibility will help you to be included in the consideration set but are more likely to activate a one-night-stand with your audience. Making sure the business is focussed on increasing the drivers of brand love, however, is more likely to help you drive a long-term relationship.

By Nicholas Graham, Digital Strategist