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The fabric of relationships

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Unlike clothes, brands don’t come with care instructions. There are no labels for brand managers that say “Manage with care. Do not treat customers coldly. Use warmth inside out. Do not behave like machines. Use kid gloves instead of iron hands to handle criticism. Do not ever wash your hands off even your worst customers.” Sometimes though, you wish they did come with an instruction label. Maybe then we’d realise that our jobs are not remotely over as we soon as the consumer buys our brand. That’s only the beginning.

This analogy with clothes probably brings home the care and concern that need to be demonstrated in the long term in order for brand relationships to thrive. Without the proper care, colours on clothes will fade very quickly. Prints will start to smudge. Sometimes patches will get stretched until they fray. But the most telling signs will be when the garment starts to unravel, thread by thread.

The thing is, you can be fooled into thinking your garment is looking as good as new after the first couple of washes. But think about it. Unless it looks as good as new even after some time, you’ll tend to pick up and wear something that looks newer, sharper, better. Once the garment starts to fade, fray, wear, and tear, you’ll discard it in favour of something newer.

The thing about all of these occurrences is not just that they will happen without the proper care. It is that they happen almost imperceptibly over time, with neglect. And that is probably the most telling metaphor for what happens to relationships—among people, and as relevantly, between brands and people.

Your brand may be loved when it’s newly purchased and shiny, sharp and good-looking. But how many brands pay attention to the colour fading, the unraveled stitch, the shiny under arm patch that will soon result in a tear, the dirty collar of brand relationships? We talk about brand loyalty as if it is one cohesive entity that shifts visibly. But like a frequently-washed and worn garment, it loses shape and wears away, one tiny patch at a time. We talk about rewards programs as if they were a cure-all for all relationship ills with customers. But what people actually want are constant care.

So what is the best way to keep the fabric of brand relationships looking new and wearable for a long time? It’s to understand that there is a need to care for every warp, every weft of the fabric.

And when you stop to think of the one person who intuitively knows and cares for fabrics to look and be good in the long run, without an instructions label, its mom. Perhaps what we need is for brand managers to become moms to their brands.


(The author is National Planning Head, Dentsu Marcom)

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