It’s time for brands to abandon the idea of romantic brand love and loyalty, argues Daniele Lazzarotto, and focus instead on brand crushes: a good time with no strings attached.

It's not hard to understand why the lovemark theory became so popular in the marketing industry. The idea is simple, logical and very seductive: if your company manages to excel both in the rational and emotional value proposition, gaining the love and the respect of your customers, the reward is a community of consumers loyal beyond reason, willing to do everything for your brand. What marketer wouldn't want to get this deal?

However, it has been over 15 years since the best seller Lovemarks, by then Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts, was released. And everyone would agree that a lot has changed from then until now. The dominance of digital technology is clearly the greatest shift. Consumers now have unlimited access to information, products, services and each other's ideas, opinions and validation. That makes them more powerful in their relationships with companies than ever before.

This power shift changes almost every aspect of the customer-brand relationship, starting with brand loyalty. The lovemarks concept, which was presented as a brand’s greatest reward, has already been put aside by numerous studies. Most of the research explains that the amount of loyal consumers is usually low and mostly insufficient to sustain sales, growth and market share. This observation was already possible in a pre-digital world and now the ability to see it has become even stronger.

The truth is that in today's digital world, people's perceptions and expectations about a brand can no longer be based on promises of love. The path to consumers' hearts is now more practical, relying on tangible and real actions. If you observe carefully, you'll notice that people now behave like a date who warns the suitor that they won’t be easily conquered: "Tell me your world view, keep proving that your intentions are true, make my life much easier for a fair price and, maybe – I said maybe – I'll be yours."

Brands wishing to keep the same relationship rules they had in the past with their customers are bound to be heartbroken. It's time for companies to abandon once and for all this romantic brand love idea and pursue a crush kind of relationship. Crushes don't ask for your loyalty or respect. They just give you a good time with no strings attached. Different from lovemarks, crushmarks are companies that understand that relationships are always temporary and, therefore, passion needs to be constantly rekindled.

A brand’s crushmark behavior can be easily identified in the tech market. Tech brands are tireless about releasing new features and new ways of proving their value. Amazon is obviously unbeatable concerning this novel strategy, but let's take Google as another example. In the early months of the pandemic, Zoom grew rapidly and took a huge share of the online conference market. Google has millions of GSuite users who could be seen as a safe, loyal customer base. But the brand didn't just presume its customers’ loyalty was unconditional and it was fast to make adjustments to the platform and its marketing strategy.


Another great example can be seen here in the Brazilian market. Brazil has a very strict banking market, consisting mostly of five big players competing amongst themselves. Recently, this peace has been threatened by one fintech, Nubank, which has earned its place by offering a humane customer relationship for fair prices -- real, tangible and simple value. Nubank has become LATAM's most valuable financial institution in only seven years by continually pleasing its customers, even with a much smaller advertising budget than the competition. Its secret is to make it easier to attain basic financial products, like checking accounts and credit cards, especially among its primary target: the tens of millions of people in the region who previously had no banking relationship.

To visualize this crushmark relationship concept, I also like to use the shoelace metaphor. Strong brands are like shoelaces – they are not held together by tight knots. It may be difficult to make and maintain the loop; the ties are fragile and any unforeseen event can untie them. Therefore, the key challenge for brand managers is to be constantly taking care to keep the lace knotted – studying new ways to delight, thrill, entertain, offer an interesting point of view, deliver utility, align with purpose, innovate, be better than yesterday and still maintain coherence between all these points.

Everyone who has been in a relationship long enough knows that the real danger is when everything goes too well. There is nothing more deadly than taking the love of others for granted. And maybe this is why so many brands that were considered lovemarks in the past got replaced by ‘crushes’ offering much more than promises. Take it as an advertising or life lesson: do not rely only on love, and always let your actions speak louder than promises.