Stop the Lin-sanity and Build Lasting Value for Your Brand Instead

Agencies Have a Responsibility to Explain Why It's Better to be the Next Richard Branson Instead of the Next Rebecca Black

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For years now, just about every client our agency has worked with has told me, "I want to be more like Apple".

Okay. Gotcha. Then, out of nowhere, a few years ago, quite a few clients started to, er, think different. "I want brand fame," they say now. Whenever I hear this, I'm reminded of something Neil Peart (arguably the world's greatest drummer, for the band Rush) said: "I never wanted to be famous. I wanted to be good."

Seems pretty obvious, huh? Well if it wasn't really obvious before, now there's no hiding it. We're all living in the age of Lin-sanity. And, no, I don't mean the planet is being overrun by slick-shooting, Ivy League-educated point guards.

What I mean is that somewhere around the 289th hour of nonstop Lin-sanity, something changed. In sports and in life, we're now much more a culture of "sensations," and less a culture of "stars." Stars have championship rings, and all-star games under their belt. Sensations come out of nowhere to completely dominate the public imagination for a specific moment in time. Kind of like Jeremy Lin. Or Tim Tebow, or Herman Cain, or Rebecca Black; or even Alabama's first internet celebrity, Antoine Dodson; or the girl who lip-synched Niki Minaj on YouTube and got 31 million hits.

Lin's big news now, but someone else surely will be in a few months.
Lin's big news now, but someone else surely will be in a few months. Credit: John Angelillo

I think you get the point. Screw having 15 minutes of fame. Right now you get about 15 seconds, and then the all-important public moves on. Agencies shouldn't promise to make brands famous. After all, should fame still be the goal, when, in today's world, fame can be so short-lived? It's a fair question. How can you make sure that your brand love endures? That's the BIG question.

And here's my answer: brand generosity. In other words, successful brands must provide real, meaningful value to potential customers if they want to build lasting loyalty and affinity for their brands.

Brand generosity has a few important principles. First of all, the product needs to provide value. Then, marketers have to offer something that their potential customers actually want --something more than a cheap T-shirt or water bottle with your logo on it. It can be an experience, or a service or a digital keepsake, but it has to create a lasting, memorable emotional connection.

Second, you can't bribe your way into brand generosity. Offering straight financial incentives, or "$5 off" coupons, won't build lasting loyalty. Underscoring that point is the recent report that brands that build Facebook followings using sweepstakes wind up with much lower levels of lasting fan engagement.

Look at some of the world's most-progressive marketers, and you'll find great examples of meaningful brand generosity. Book a first-class ticket with Virgin Atlantic and the airline will provide you a chauffer-driven car service to pick you up at the airport. It's a wonderful gesture that screams luxury. Lego built an entire social network, ReBrick, and then turned over the keys over to hardcore fans, who now have a brand-new playground to show off their creations. It's a powerful way for Lego to celebrate their brand's inherent creativity. Zappos built their entire brand on generous customer service and free returns. These are the kinds of ideas we could be providing our clients.

It's that sort of thinking that inspired us to infuse some brand generosity into a project for our client Asics, which sponsors the New York City Marathon. We knew marathoners desperately needed motivation and support during the race. So we built a system that collected inspirational messages from the marathoners' own family and friends, then delivered the messages to marathon runners, during the race, on-course. Imagine running the hardest race of your life, looking up, and seeing your kids cheering you on. The program has been an enormous hit, to say the least.

Admittedly, I'm no basketball expert. Jeremy Lin may go on to have a long and successful career, especially for a Harvard guy. And there's no doubt he has an incredible story. But the reality is , even if he continues to perform well on the court, there will always be the next sensation waiting in the wings and ready to steal the stage.

The key for marketers is to make sure that through strategic brand generosity, we can stop the Lin-sanity and create lasting loyalty for our brands.

About the Author
Tom Sullivan is CEO of San Diego-based agency Vitro, which is owned by MDC Partners.

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