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My Brand and I Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together

The article is written by Sherwood MacVeigh, Director, Senior Brand Strategist Hyperquake

My relationship with my eye cream is over.

I loved my eye cream; I used it faithfully for years, every morning and night. But those days are history; I am breaking up with my brand. To paraphrase a country superstar’s current hit song, my brand and I “are never, ever getting back together.” Why?  This brand just isn’t working for me anymore. I’ve changed; it hasn’t.

All my professional life I have been trying to convince people to fall in love with particular brands; to form meaningful, long-term relationships with them. Marketers like me use packaging, advertising and other tools to personify a brand and endow it with human values and traits that encourage consumers to fall in love at first sight. But can you really love a brand? And what makes love last?

In his 1995 book, Descartes’ Error, leading neurologist Antonio Damasio asserts that “we feel in order to think”; that emotions are essential to rational thinking and normal social behavior. If Damasio is correct then a consumer must feel something about a brand in order to decide when to begin—and end—a relationship with it. Was it brand-specific love that made me decide to purchase that eye cream for so many years? Or was it non-brand-specific love for smoother skin and fewer wrinkles? I’ve come to the conclusion that what I loved was the results the cream produced; when those results no longer lived up to my expectations, my emotional attachment faded and I rationally decided it was time to break up with the brand and move on to something else.

As people’s needs, values and desires change, so too, must brands change. Identifying why and when a consumer wants to change brands and finding ways to use emotions to forestall —or even reverse—the decision to switch are big challenges for marketers. What changes should/can a brand make to reignite consumers’ passions? Further, how can brands convert short-term romances into long-term love? Here are some suggestions:

  • Brands cannot take their consumers for granted; marketers must constantly assess, anticipate and address consumers’ changing desires. Use focus groups, surveys and —social media to determine what consumers desire today that they didn’t yesterday…and how the brand can fulfill those desires.
  • Surprise and delight your consumer, but don’t “cheap out” by offering only expected coupons and discounts. Innovate and connect through targeted customer perks and loyalty programs. .
  • Let consumers know that you support the things they care about by engaging in purpose-centric marketing and civic/philanthropic programs.
  • Actions speak louder than words; don’t be afraid to show consumers that you’re willing to change. Update your packaging; commit to new innovations or line extensions; be there for consumers when it matters most.
  • Ask for feedback…and really listen when you get it.  Give consumers a chance to voice what they like and (potentially) dislike about the brand. Use these insights to grow and evolve.
  • Connect with your consumer on their terms.  Don’t assume that sending them 500 emails and coupons means that you’re really connecting. You must understand when and where they are most receptive to your outreach and messages and embrace those moments fully.
  • Understand consumers’ life stages and how your brand is perceived at certain places along their journey. Know how consumers move from stage to stage, what needs and desires are triggered during each stage, and how your brand can evolve to meet these changing needs.
  • Paint the future you want to share with consumers; continually lead them toward their aspirations. Demonstrate you care via loyalty programs; special promotions, and insider information about new products and services.

People are users, not lovers of inanimate things. We use brands to satisfy our desires. Don’t be deceived by or become complacent about the loyalty of your current consumers; strive to understand why they are loyal and use this knowledge to strengthen your relationship before it runs into trouble as a result of pricing or product changes, competitive threats, or user boredom.  And remember: Once a consumer walks away, you may never, ever get back together.


About the Authors

Sherwood MacVeigh is Director, Senior Brand Strategist at Hyperquake, a brand evolution agency. She can be reached at