Home is where the heart is for brand loyalty

Understanding your brand’s provenance and getting people to connect with it can be a powerful strategy for retaining customers and improving loyalty

Understanding your brand’s provenance, and getting people to connect with it, can be a powerful strategy for building brand loyalty, says Steve Gibbons

I’m normally not one to take issue with shopkeepers but on this particular occasion I really had to. I was in the world’s best known toy shop, FAO Schwarz in New York, and the idea that Monopoly hadn’t been a British innovation was preposterous to me and I made my view very clear.

Steve Gibbons, managing director, Dew Gibbons

It turns out I was wrong. Who knew? It turns out the first version of the board game was designed using the streets and property of Atlantic City, New Jersey. The quietly triumphant salesman put me politely but firmly back in my place.

This of course is a quite brilliant marketing trick if it can be pulled off. A provenance shared by brand and consumer brings tremendous loyalty and no doubt people the world over are convinced Monopoly was invented in their home city. But if unlike Monopoly you can’t replicate yourself in the manner of a chameleon, just relying on shared provenance is by definition limiting.

You don’t have to share provenance, however. It can be more than enough for a consumer to either empathise with a brand’s origins or associate the product’s benefits with that location in some way. And we’re increasingly seeing really successful beauty brands doing just this. Moroccanoil stormed onto the hair care market – justifiably arguing it created its own category.

Although a deep dig on its website reveals little about the name’s origins, I assume the association is with argan oil (which appears in some of the products), an extract of the argan nut which only grows in Morocco. Whether consumers actually know this or make an assumption about the potency of an exotic ingredient probably doesn’t matter.

For another recently revitalised brand, the endorsement by Kew Royal Botanic Gardens of Boots’ Botanics range is nothing short of masterful. Twinning a British brand (although now owned by the US drug store giant Walgreens) with an internationally important research institution responsible for the world’s largest collection of living plants reinforces in one fell swoop Boots Botanics’ apothecary credentials and strengthens its provenance.

Gazelli, a luxury skin care brand, recently blossomed onto the beauty scene. It hales from the little know or understood country of Azerbaijan and its name is “inspired by an ancient Azeri form of lyrical poetry in praise of beauty, youth and love”. Gazelli’s unique ingredient is a ‘white healing oil’ extracted from beneath the plains of Naftalan and nowhere else in the world.

This is without doubt a brand to watch; not only does in embrace its country’s rich traditions and storytelling but it does so with a lightness of touch and an elegance that belies what might at first seem to some an unpromising provenance. The power of provenance can come either through an association with an ingredient or an association with a way of life.

It’s a moot point as to whether it’s perception or reality that really matters here. Does Aussie, P&G’s rapidly expanding retail hair care brand, actually come from Australia? And does it really matter? While it does use indigenous Australian ingredients, what it does most brilliantly, and what informs the brand’s distinctive tone of voice, is to appropriate the laid back and relaxed values of the antipodeans. It is this above all else that has proved to really resonate with a particular type of consumer.

On the back of cool Britannia, a period of time in the 1990s of increasing pride in the culture of the UK, a conscious decision was made to irrevocably tie the Coty owned Rimmel cosmetics brand to London. This has proved to be the real driver behind the brand’s global expansion and is now used as its key point of difference, being summed up in the strapline ‘Get the London Look’. Rimmel London milks this for all it’s worth from its choice of brand ambassadors (Kate Moss, who herself is a quintessentially London brand) to its London Blog where it shares insider’s secrets about London, from Camden’s counterculture to Shoreditch’s hipsters. It’s a concept that is neatly mirrored by the L’Oréal owned Maybelline which plays almost exactly the same trick but with New York.

It’s curious that it is foreign companies (French in both these instances, who are generally not known for their liking of Anglo Saxon values) that own these competing brands, both of which do everything to play to the strengths of their native cities. Perhaps it takes an outsider to see the real value of their brands’ provenance.

We recently had the daughter of a much travelled friend and now American resident doing an internship with us. Her reply to “where is home?” was “nowhere”. That she could call nowhere home was a point of regret for her. So for both brands and people alike a sense of belonging and knowing where you come from is enormously important.

Provenance can be up front and centre or it can just be another facet of your brand’s personality, but either way it’s essential to be able to answer the question: “Where is your brand’s home?”

I should however record that our American intern is extremely smart, nice and well adjusted, so in her case it doesn’t seem to have done any harm and she certainly wouldn’t be picking arguments with New York shopkeepers she wouldn’t win.

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