Is the idea of B2C Lovemarks transferable to a B2B context? If so, how should a B2B Lovemark be characterized? Based on the theories of Saatchi and Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts, and a Master’s thesis conducted in 2008 at the University of Lund, Sweden, we explore the possibilities of using Lovemarks in B2B branding with the aim of boosting brand preference and creating customer loyalty beyond reason.
In consumer markets (B2C), the importance of branding has been widely recognized for quite a while, but little research has been done on branding in business-to-business (B2B) markets.
Even today, some B2B marketeers think that the decision-making process of professional customers solely depends on hard facts like functionality, price and quality. Soft emotional facts, like empathy and enjoyment, are seen as more or less irrelevant.
If that’s the case, then how come some of the world’s most valuable brands are B2B brands? According to BusinessWeek/Interbrand (2008), IBM ranks as the world’s 2nd most valuable brand, General Electric 4th, Intel 7th, American Express 15th, Cisco 17th, Oracle 23rd, HSBC 26th, UPS 28th and SAP 31st. In fact, of the world’s 30 most valuable brands, 11 are B2B brands.
Several scholars (Mudambi, 2003; Lynch & de Chernatony, 2004; Kotler & Pfoertsch; 2006) have started to research the relevance of branding in B2B. According to their respective findings, they agree that brands serve exactly the same purposes in B2B markets as they do in consumer markets: they simplify the decision-making process and establish a competitive advantage, price premiums and long-term profitability. As such, they must be seen as strategic assets – even in a B2B context.
Creating an emotional bond
Branding is, in short, about drawing seller and buyer closer to each other on an emotional level. This is becoming increasingly important, particularly in B2B markets, since customers are better informed than ever about competitors’ and substitutes’ offerings. The business environment of the 21st century is ultracompetitive; customers are flooded with brand messages and are increasingly more time-pressured, stressed and confused with the vast array of choice. Simply put: competing only on a functional benefit level is short-term oriented because the development of technology is so fast and imitation so common.
According to Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi (and the one that coined the term Lovemarks), the world is shifting from an Information Economy via an Attention Economy to an Attraction Economy. Customers seek individuality in their relationships with brands, they want interactive involvement and entertainment, and they seek brands they can bond with. And by doing so, they are able to ”neglect” all other possible choices.
Neurologist Donald Calne claims that people are 80% emotional and 20% rational. In branding and marketing, the essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusion. So, the more emotion that is involved, the more action can be expected. Or, as novelist Maya Angelou has said:
”People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did – but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
But is it possible to create strong emotions in B2B relationships? Is ”love” truly realistic?
What is a Lovemark?
In his book, Lovemarks – the future beyond brands, Kevin Roberts captures the term “Lovemark” in many different ways. Based on all his descriptions, a tentative definition could be:
“Lovemarks are strong emotional relationships or bonds between brands and customers that are based on great performance and which are identified, owned, loved, defended, advocated and forgiven by customers. Lovemarks create loyalty beyond reason.”
Roberts identified a combination of three qualities that draw the line between ordinary brands and Lovemarks: mystery, sensuality and intimacy. He further argues that brands have been ‘captured by formula’ and are too stiff to adjust to the fast-transforming customers of today. These customers look for more individuality, personal relationships, experience and outstanding performance – which is true for both orientations, B2C and B2B. Roberts concludes that ”A Lovemark will always be a great brand, but not all great brands are Lovemarks”.
A Master’s thesis conducted in 2008 at the University of Lund, Sweden (The Potential of B2B Lovemarks), sought to answer the following three questions:
1. What role do intangible factors play in B2B branding?
2. Is the idea of B2C Lovemarks transferable to a B2B context?
3. How should a B2B Lovemark be characterized?
According to the authors, the main contribution of the thesis is to fill the knowledge gap regarding B2B Lovemarks by creating a framework for how B2B brands can be established as Lovemarks. The thesis aims to verify the general idea of the Lovemark and show which brand attributes sustain Lovemark status and contribute to it by studying Lovemarks from a managerial perspective – which had not been done in the past.
The thesis concludes that Kevin Roberts’ theory of Lovemarks can, in fact, can be adapted to B2B branding, but the definition of what constitutes a Lovemark may need some adjustments.
The problem in most B2B categories is that as soon as a brand/company becomes a market leader (which suggests a high level of customer loyalty), customers are in fact less willing to ”love” it. The simple reason being that, in B2B, obvious market leaders often charge an extra premium and are just as often perceived as being a bit cocky and overly self-confident. Since ”love” is generally interpreted as a purely warm and positive feeling, many market leaders in B2B can be regarded as disqualified with regard to brands that are loved. They are however often highly respected, liked and, especially, highly trusted.
But what is love? And what kind of love is Kevin Roberts referring to?
The eight faces of love
Robert J. Sternberg, American psychologist and psychometrician, claims that love consists of three components:
1. Intimacy (refers to feelings of closeness, connectedness and bondedness)
2. Passion (encompasses drives that lead to romance, physical attraction and sexual consummation)
3. Decision/Commitment (refers to deciding that someone loves someone else and a long-term commitment to maintain that love)
Intimacy is seen as “warm” (emotional investment, empathy), passion as “hot” (motivational involvement, arousal) and decision/commitment as “cold” (cognitive interest). In a love relationship, these three components have different weights. For instance, in a short-term romance, passion is rated highest, while in a long-term close relationship, commitment and intimacy play the most important roles. The combinations of the components that constitute “love” allow eight different emotions, summarized by Sternberg in the table below (Taxonomy of Kinds of Love, Sternberg, 1986).
In relation to Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts most likely refers to “consummate love”. In the B2B context, however, love should probably be considered as the kind of love where bonds and long-term commitment are most valued. Minor failure and shortcomings can be forgiven, and physical attraction is of relatively least importance. Consequently, Lovemarks in B2B branding should be that of “companionate love” – which can become a powerful foundation for “loyalty beyond reason”. Or, as psychologists H. T. Reis and A. Aron summarize it:
“Much evidence indicates that love in long-term relationships is associated with intimacy, trust, caring, and attachment – all factors that contribute to the maintenance of relationships over time.”
Finally, Sternberg stresses the fact that love ceases to exist unless expressed, “Without expression, even the greatest loves can die”.
Related to Lovemarks, this means that companies need to constantly express (communicate) what they ‘feel’ for their customers.
Is your brand loved?
Customer-Based Brand Equity model (CBBE, Keller, 2002, & Kotler/Pfoertsch, 2006), modified by Pyramid.
If we accept that Lovemark refers to companionate love in a B2B context – brands that have created loyalty beyond rational/intellectual reason – there are quite a few possible examples of Lovemarks:
Has persuaded more than 10,000 companies to sign a technology standard agreement and gone from 1 product to 3 billion (!) in only 8 years, making it the fastest growing technology brand ever.
Caterpillar (heavy machinery)
Same story as with trucks – dependency and reliability to the brand seems to be far beyond rational product features and benefits.
DeWalt (handcraft tools)
As with trucks and heavy machinery, handcraft tools are most often chosen based on brand preference (and loyalty) rather than on actual product features. In many construction companies a “preferred tool brand culture” is obvious.
Financial Times (newspaper)
Perceived as the no. 1 authority in financial news coverage.
One of the most valued brands in the world. Not because IBM employees are in fact the most competent consultants, nor because of the numerous methods developed by IBM.
You trust them. Period. Companies make strategic decisions based on McKinsey recommendations.
Reuters (news service)
A strong brand in its category that comes with a huge amount of credibility.
Haulage contractor companies, and especially the truck drivers, tend to have very strong emotional relations to a specific truck brand.
Symantec (IT security)
This expert in IT security has steadily established itself as one of the big technology brands through excellent products and service, and is now a real rival to the likes of HP, Oracle, etc.
Voted in 1995 as the UK’s best B2B brand in a survey carried out by B2B Marketing magazine, beating high-profile brands including Accenture, HP and Cisco. Tenon focuses on close partnership with its customers, using a more personal, welcoming approach.
In the above-mentioned Master’s thesis, the authors suggest a fairly simple “Lovemarker Model”, based on Kevin Roberts’ model introduced in his second book about Lovemarks. According to Roberts, the model should be regarded as a guide on how to build Lovemarks. The tool is a questionnaire that specifies the aforementioned categories of love and respect, and that help evaluate a number of performance and perception components according to ”hot”, ”warm” or ”cold”.
If you are interested in finding out whether your brand has Lovemark potential, you are welcome to give us a call for a personal presentation.