In Praise of Sticky Brands: Ones We Stick to (Not Those Which Stick it To Us)
Now that The New York Times appears (at last) intent on covering the looming ‘retailmageddon,’ as witness two, count them, two major features last weekend alone, it seems the rest of us need no longer worry we’ll be viewed as mere Cassandras or lone voices ‘crying out in the wilderness to make straight the path' of the shopper. The larger question, of course, still hovers: Wither retail? Wither fashion? Wither fragrance, beauty? Wither, indeed, community?
The Great Question from everyone who calls us is no longer simply, “is the mall going away?” Or, “What do we do about Amazon?” Those were the questions of five years ago. Now the Great Question is “Is Sector Growth Possible When the Entire Category Contracts?”
Interestingly, Monday’s edition of The New York Times carried an op-ed piece by David Brooks which identifies one of the most significant, indeed, hopeful pathways through the imploding (and more usually self-immolating) retail and brand minefields. He writes about “thick” and “thin” organizations, e.g. the ‘thick’ ones appeal to our economic and moral compasses, rather than the ‘thins’ we simply use to advance our self-interest, whether as an employee or customer. Brooks terms it differently than we have, but he got it right.
In our recent work, we’ve identified winning brands we’ve termed ‘sticky,’ i.e., those customers and employees stick with, no matter what. Some folks think about this phenomenon purely in terms of ‘purpose led and fed’ brands, as in framing an emotionally resonant and relevant mission as a recruitment and retention tool. Yes. And. We’ve found something else: As the songwriters of Beauty and the Beast put it, “There’s something there that wasn’t there before.”
It’s not the kind of mission/vision thing that’s an essential papering over of the far more foundational belief that the sole purpose of the business is to “generate superior shareholder ROI.” I had one CEO of a prestige insurance firm tell me he meets other CEOs all the time who look around at their human resources executive and say, “Mission? Vision? Yeah, we’ve got one of those, I think. Don’t we?” Having a sense of heartfelt purpose is not a check mark for a ‘Corporate To Do’ list. It’s a passion. Sticky brands are passion brands.
As one loyal-to-the-point-of-evangelism consumer told us: I only buy Tom’s Shoes, because I believe they want to make shoes for people who don't have shoes. At all. Tom's needs my help to do it.” That’s a sticky brand, for customers and employees alike. Consumption that matters. That’s today’s better mousetrap. The world will beat a (straight) path to sticky brand doors. Even when the anchor stores are shuttered, the mall has closed and Main Street looks like a gap-toothed six-year old’s smile. Sticky brands will still be smiling.