Despite all your success, your worst nightmare has finally come true.
After a few years working hard, your brand has really started to find its stride. You’ve been focused and pulled all the right levers to bring love and goodwill to your brand. Your brand has developed a strong core of followers, and more customers are coming on board. Year over year sales are now consistently trending nicely.
But now you’ve just discovered a contingency of haters has emerged, and you’re distraught.
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, though, why don’t you pat yourself on the back instead—your brand has officially become salient.
Salience, or simply being noticed, is a concept that isn’t considered nearly enough when considering brand strategy.
Is it because marketers have been so focused on differentiation? If you think about it, differentiation appeals to someone making a reasoned choice. But, if we agree that a brand is mostly about developing an emotional relationship with an audience, couldn’t we also assert that salience is even more critical than differentiation?
Instead of simply asking, "How is our brand different?" shouldn’t we be asking, "How is our brand salient?"
Despite the lip service that some marketers pay to "breaking through the clutter," many more are too often concerned that they actually might stand out, and possibly even offend someone. Being conspicuous does create the potential for negative feedback, since everyone can’t like everything.
But a successful brand manager knows the brand can’t be for everyone. The more salient a brand becomes, those that aren’t a part of that brand experience can sometimes become opponents.
From presidents, to companies, to sports teams, those that have a clear point of view will often have their share of critics and haters. Is it because the haters feel left out? Is it that they don’t agree with your brand’s point of view?
While we intellectually know that our brand can’t be all things to all people, it’s often difficult to accept that reality emotionally. But the successful brands are those that can be disciplined enough to make the bold moves that might eliminate some portions of the market. These are business realities that you have to wrestle with and accept.
While the recent Cadillac ELR ad enraged many, it also spoke very clearly to those who might actually be interested in buying one.
Those that didn’t like the spot would have likely never purchased a Cadillac anyway, and the brand leaders were bold enough to understand and embrace it.
Why has salience taken a back seat? I contend that it’s mostly about risk.
Most of us tend to over-react to negative feedback, which makes it difficult for us to respond rationally when encountering any less-than-positive response to what we’re doing. The most common reaction is to pull back immediately from what is making someone react. And, even while we try to convince ourselves that "it’s just a few people," we then think about our boss’s reaction—and our boss’s boss’s reaction. All of this concern causes us to dull the edges of our brand, keeping us from doing something that might actually stand out and be noticed.
Even though we all want to be loved, we also have to remember that success often breeds contempt.
The most valuable sports teams, like the Yankees and Cowboys, have the largest groups of haters. And one of college basketball’s most successful programs, Duke, has a great following of haters. What we have to remember is that love and hate aren’t necessarily at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Love and hate are actually at one end and indifference is at the other. Nobody hates the Milwaukee Bucks.
For a brand, a lot of indifference is more damaging than a little hatred—which means that you should actually find comfort that those newfound haters are simply validating the saliency of your brand.
—Tom Denari is President of Young & Laramore.