Here is a question for every executive or marketer: Why do once-popular brands lose their appeal, and fade into the cobwebbed reference section of our collective memory?
Why do these brands become artifacts of a bygone decade, sources of both amusement (since the products look so dated) and embarrassment (that the products were successful in the first place)?
Why, in other words, does a brand – including a high-end article of clothing, with a reptilian or equine mascot stitched in, respectively, green and red – forfeit its influence? The crocodile has since regained its stature, while the polo player remains very much in the game, so to speak; but the two, each with a knitted collar and short, cuffed sleeves, are status symbols of aspirational living – and the sacrificial icons of satirists and the agents of class envy.
A great brand should be immune from these extremes because it does not have to manufacture a mythological backstory, nor does it rely on the now-unknown achievements of a departed French tennis star noted for his on-the-court supremacy and casual elegance.
No, a genuinely great brand lasts because it is infused with love; it represents a never-ending courtship with consumers. That brand – or rather, the stewards of that brand – forgoes greed and the temptation to comprise quality; it does not raise prices as part of an effort to increase profits at the expense of this extended family of supporters.
For that encapsulates the bond among consumers, which is love, and the attitude they have towards each other: That they, the men and women who are loyal to a company well after a brand becomes a national sensation, are part of a family, united by their admiration for – and strengthened by the respect they receive from – a business of integrity and inviolate principles.
I write these words from experience because, as the Founder of Dave's Pet Food and Dave's Soda and Pet Food City, I can attest to the factors that enliven or destroy brands; the variables of avarice and arrogance that result in bad decisions, alienation from the public and the subsequent negative publicity that often takes years to undo.
And, as the author of a book on this very subject, Creating Customer Love: Make Your Customers Love You So Much They'll Never Go Anyplace Else!, I believe a company must invest in the courtship alluded to above. A business must always romance consumers not in a cheap or insincere manner, but with the excitement that sustains the power of love.
In so many words: Love what you create, and share it with your family – unveil it with pride for your family of customers, who love your products and swear allegiance to your values.
Maintaining the Love Affair: Keep Doing What Works
The theme to this discussion is, upon review, a rhetorical question.
The query about why many brands fail or lose their credibility answers itself. Which is to say, it takes patience and a craftsman's devotion to excellence for brands to survive; and it takes love – the inarticulate sensation that makes something worth doing (and doing well) – for brands to succeed.
And no, my advice is neither revolutionary nor revelatory. My recommendation to all executives, in all industries, is, however, straightforward: Do not succumb to laziness, the pursuit of nonexistent shortcuts, or self-indulgent efforts to substitute the acquisition of wealth for the production of something real and permanent.
Do not entertain your baser instincts. Instead, be a leader.
Wise in your decisions and confident in your actions, you can be that leader.
So, yes, let your mind guide you. But let your heart – let love – inspire you.
Dave Ratner is the Founder of Dave's Pet Food and Dave's Soda and Pet Food City. He is also a member of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association Board of Directors, representing independent retailers alongside Vice Presidents of Marketing for Home Depot, Walgreens and Target.