Are brands unwanted obstacles between fans and their passions?

Are brands unwanted obstacles between fans and their passions?

Marketers like to be able to say their brands 'own' something - such as a particular event, sport, category or sector - but that kind of dominance risks alienating the very sought-after consumers who are more passionate about the 'owned' property than the brands in question.

Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit


Manaaz Akhtar, Regional marketing director, Europe, Subway

To me, the obstacle is not the brand, it's the marketing of the brand. Consumers are sophisticated and cynical, but still too many brands spam them with push messages broadcast into personal social feeds - that is a marketing problem, rather than a brand problem.

The key is to find authentic connections between our consumers' diverse shared passions. Just like meeting and making a friend in real life, you take the time to work out what they do, like and want to share.

Consumers embrace brands that aren't just in it for themselves - we have to move into genuine conversations, away from push messaging. Do it with cheeky humour like Paddy Power or great empathy like Waitrose, and you can achieve real connection with your audience.



Jemima Bird, Interim customer director, The Co-operative, and founder, JBird Consulting

In a world of 140 characters and of oversharing, simply butting into the conversation like the drunken 'letch' at the office party simply ain't going to cut it.

If brands want consumers to fall in love and stay in love, they must find emotional ways to engage on a personal level, otherwise they will simply have consumers and never a lifelong lover.

Like any relationship, love can become stale. It requires effort, a bit of Friday-night seduction, a gentle Wednesday-morning flirtation, a love note in the lunchbox. Increasingly, to engage with consumers, brands must fan the flames of passion.

As the desire for 'stuff' diminishes and that for experiences increases, the brands that gently become part of the experience will be those that share in the joy; they will be seen less as obstacles and more as part of the passion.



Hugh Bishop, Chairman, MRM Meteorite

Like any relationship there are rules and if brands play by them, most will have a happy and long partnership with fans without disrupting their passions. The first is to be sensitive to fans' feelings. Do not rebrand St James' Park, beloved home of Newcastle United FC, as The Sports Direct Arena and expect the fans to love you.

Second, it is important to be compatible with your branding partner. Brands must also gain the skill of not talking about themselves but, instead, what their partner loves.

Another simple rule is: no one-night stands. Who can remember last year's FA Cup sponsor, or the one before that? Lastly, don't be a tightwad - did Twickenham really have to ban the Guinness tent because the new sponsor sold beer? To have a long, happy relationship with fans and their passions, brands must be real, honest and not take themselves too seriously.



Andrew Cocker, Senior marketing director, Expedia

Brands have a role to play to help people get closer to their passions. We do this by interrogating our powerful global data to develop insights, which help us understand 'intent signals'. We use these to personalise messaging in the most helpful way for our customers. If they click on an article on Bali, for example, we can infer they are looking for a beach holiday, to travel to Asia, etc. As the conversation matures, we can narrow it down to be more relevant and personal. If you're interested in, say, a Barcelona music festival, we can give contextual information about places to stay, when to fly and an insider's guide.

The key is continual test-and-learn to really understand and process the myriad intent signals. When you want to connect with a customer on an emotional level, you need to understand them first, which is why data and insights are so critical; then, make it helpful, personal, relevant and, hopefully, inspirational.