Branding: A Labor of Love

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February 11, 2014; Harvard Business Review, “HR Blog Network”

For many, Valentine’s Day is a time to demonstrate how much you care about that special someone in your life. Perhaps you plan to take a partner to dinner tonight, have a movie night with the family, or enjoy happy hour with friends. Or perhaps you plan to spend quality time with another lifelong companion: Diet Coke.

Don’t laugh. According to academic studies and Tim Hallorman’s recent HBR blog post, people really do have emotional, almost human-like relationships with brands. He recalls hearing a focus group participant exclaim, “I really think of Diet Coke as my boyfriend.”

The relationship metaphor might seem like a stretch, but Hallorman believes that it does indeed fit the bill. He even suggests that companies think about the stages of “brand love” as they might the key stages of a romantic relationship. To have a strong, lasting relationship, he argues you should:

  1. Know yourself.
  2. Know your type.
  3. Meet memorably.
  4. Make it mutual.
  5. Deepen the connection.
  6. Keep the love alive.
  7. Make up…
  8. …Or break up.

It is easy to see how Hallorman’s relationship metaphor would work in for-profit companies. Such companies have a direct one-to-one relationship with the consumer, so as long as both parties are satisfied, the relationship continues.

His metaphor can also be useful to nonprofit organizations, but we may wish to place extra attention on numbers four and five: “Make it mutual” and “Deepen the connection.”

Brand loyalty, for many nonprofits, is more than having an individual relationship with a product; it’s about buying into a collective vision for a better future. And brand loyalty means satisfying not one but two primary sets of constituents: the donor and the recipient. In human service organizations, at least, the nonprofit must ensure the donor understands the mission and supports the intervention offered. And at the same time, the nonprofit must work with the client to envision his or her own potential and make use of the services provided. In ideal circumstances, clients are actively engaged in selecting the services and interventions offered.

In a lasting brand relationship with both clients and donors, nonprofits must play the middleman—or matchmaker, if you will, developing the relationships with and between both parties. Significant time must be spent listening, educating, and communicating to ensure everybody’s needs are met, and significant effort must be invested in shared vision-making. If the nonprofit is to be successful, the connection to the brand must be mutually satisfying and deeply meaningful for all involved. Both parties, after all, are trusting the nonprofit to steward their collective future.

Leading a nonprofit is a tremendously complicated and sacred role. Whether or not you believe the relationship metaphor has merit, leading a nonprofit is, without a doubt, a labor of love.—Jennifer Amanda Jones

  • Teresa Kalina

    So true! You really see this with successful nonprofit organizations. Donors really feel like a part of something bigger when what they do is recognized as a change for the greater and can actually “see” that change. Great article thanks.