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Is brand DEVOTION a worthless aim?

There used to be a targeting model called the 4 A’s. Availables, Acceptors, Adopters and Adorers. The idea was simple. First, you decided which of these was your best target for growth. Then you worked out how you wanted your brand’s relationship with that target to develop.

The model was laid out left to right, Availables to Adorers. The Holy Grail was, of course, the far right. Adorers were your most valuable customers. They bought your brand the most and they planned to carry on doing so. They were also the ones with the strongest relationship with it. So they were the best at explaining what the brand was all about.

Since the time of this model, there has been the whole growth in the idea of engagement. So many modern marketing ideas - conversations, co-creation, purpose, communities, social media marketing, transparency, experience, storytelling – essentially come from the same place. They assume consumers want a closer relationship with a brand. It’s about Adorers.

But now we are in the midst of a reality check. Buckets of cold water are being thrown on marketers, generally by the grumpy sages of the blogging world. Mark Ritson loves mocking the idea of ‘brand love’ by throwing out facts like the number of brands the average Australian actively follows on social media is just one. He can also be very rude about brand purpose.

Bob Hoffman is even blunter (quite an achievement): “our brands are very important to us marketers and very unimportant to most consumers.”

But Byron Sharp goes the furthest. He argues that loyalty building doesn’t work as a growth strategy. The double jeopardy law says that as a brand grows, it will simply gain a predictable amount of penetration and loyalty for its share. On top of that, your regular customers buy other brands too, so in reality how loyal are they? For him growth is all about new customers. It’s about Availables.

So who’s right? When it comes to growth, it’s hard to argue against the importance of penetration. The evidence in ‘How Brands Grow’ is persuasive (and if you need any more persuading, there’s now ‘How Brands Grow Part 2’ to hammer home the point).

But many people are still sold on the idea of engagement, particularly through brand purpose, and with good cause. Matt Roskill at Jobandtalent, the online job marketplace, recently showed me an Edelman Brandshare study which found that, across 11,000 people and 8 countries, 92% of people wanted to do business with companies that shared their beliefs.

It’s true that purpose statements can get too grandiose. Sometimes they seem to have come completely adrift from their moorings. But brands do have to have a purpose. It doesn’t have to be a social purpose, but if that’s a need to be satisfied, that’s where the opportunity may exist.

It’s also true that talk of devotion is generally taking things too far. But don’t forget that Devotion is about loyalty and Loyalty is a need as well as a behavior. It’s also a two-way street. If you want it, you have to show it.

So be careful about focusing all your attention on turning Availables into Acceptors. Adorers may not be as devoted to your brand as you would hope, but they will keep you and your brand on the straight and narrow.

In fact, maybe it’s better to think of them these days as Admirers. And wanting more of them is still a worthy ambition.

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