Fast Talk: Brands We Love

Love, loyalty, passion. When people have those feelings for your product or service, how do you manage that? Nurture it? We spoke with the brand advocates for five products we love to find out their secrets.


Guinness: Brew a Connection

Chris Parsons

Marketing director of beer
Diageo North America
Stamford, Connecticut


Years ago, when I first started drinking Guinness, I think I was a little intimidated by it. A lot of people are. It’s black when other beers are yellow. It’s got a creamy head when other beers have a fizzy head. When it pours, you see it surge and settle in the glass. When you first see that, you think, “That’s not what I’m used to drinking.” And the tendency is to sip, but it doesn’t really taste as good as when you have a proper mouthful of Guinness. A brewmaster once told me, “Guinness awakens the taste buds in your mouth. It’s alive.”

Those qualities of the beer — distinct, proud, individualistic — are the same qualities that our drinkers associate with themselves. It comes right through the heart of the product and creates an emotional connection. We try to strengthen that by being as close as we can to the consumer. A couple of years ago, we were holding an event for our most ardent Guinness fans, something we do four times a year, two or three weeks at a time. We discovered that many of them thought Guinness would make them fat. Guinness has only 125 calories, about 15 more than Bud Light. But we realized we had never communicated that. Now we’re running an ad campaign saying, “Guinness only has 125 calories, but not on purpose.” We didn’t change the product, we just listened. Customers loved this, and our volume has since gone through the roof.

We don’t lose customers. Once or twice you hear about someone who had a bad experience. They’ll write a letter, but then at the end they’ll write, “I’ll still drink it, I just wanted to tell you.” You never hear, “I used to be a Guinness drinker.”


Chris Parsons recently added a refrigerated Guinness keg system to his deck.

Netflix: Project a New Experience

Leslie Kilgore

Chief marketing officer
Netflix Inc.
Los Gatos, California

What people want in a movie is an escape into this different world without everyday hassles. With Netflix, I don’t have to go to the video store, I can keep movies as long as I want, and I get them at home with a prepaid return envelope. If you go into a large traditional store, they’re only going to have 4,000 titles. We have 20,000 titles that span 250 genres. Customer service, convenience, and selection are the essence of our brand.


More than 90% of our customers tell us they evangelize the service to friends and family. The biggest impact we’ve seen is people spending a lot of time talking about what’s in their queue of movies they want shipped to them next. Some even use Netflix as a verb, as in, “Whale Rider? I Netflixed it.”

Customers have that level of enthusiasm because we have a great experience, and that’s why constantly improving the quality of the service is an obsessive part of our culture. A few years ago, we had one distribution center located here in the San Francisco Bay area, and folks in the area absolutely loved receiving their movies in one day. We had a very healthy subscriber base on the East Coast, but we knew those customers would be happier if they got their movies as quickly as customers in San Francisco. So we’ve opened up 24 distribution centers all around the country, and now more than 80% of our subscribers can receive their movies in about a day. To know that ultimately Netflix makes people’s weekends better is incredibly rewarding.

Episodes of Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, and The Sopranos are currently on rotation in Leslie Kilgore’s DVD player.


ESPN: Fan the Relationship’s Flames

Lee Ann Daly

Executive vice president, marketing
New York, New York

We take sports very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously. That goes back to ESPN’s roots. Our founders were bohemian sports fans in the same way that poets and painters and jazz musicians believe in what they’re doing in a passionate way. They really just wanted to create a 24-hour sports, news, and information network to share with other fans.

Although ESPN has grown into 40 different businesses [25 television networks globally, a radio network, a magazine, ownership of the professional bass-fishing and extreme-sports tourneys, a chain of sports bar/restaurants, etc.], what hasn’t changed is our conversation with fans. It’s almost like a club. So all of these extensions of the original ESPN must serve our relationship with each fan. When we expand, the most important thing to me is whether we can transform the business that we go into by better serving the fan. If it doesn’t, you’ll make money for 10 minutes, and then the fan will be disappointed and you won’t be making any more money.


I think it’s very difficult to put up with us if you don’t love sports. What I’m talking about is a fundamental respect and understanding for just how important sports are in people’s lives. Even though many people don’t consider themselves to be sports fans, when you delve a little beneath the surface, most people are. To some degree, I don’t think you can call yourself an American if you’re not a sports fan.

Lee Ann Daly grew up in a house with three football-playing brothers where there was “a lot of yelling at the television.”

Luna Bar: Start a Movement

Yana Kushner

Director of Luna equity and advanced product development
Clif Bar Inc.
Berkeley, California


What’s unique about Luna nutrition bars — and what inspires me — is that the brand honors and supports women. There’s a whole world of products that stereotype us and tell us what’s wrong with us. Luna is there to lift us up.

In the beginning, a lot of our business was built by word of mouth — women telling each other about Luna bars, sharing them with their sisters, mothers, girlfriends. My favorite Luna story is from a woman working in an ad agency, in a fast-paced, stressful environment. Her boss, also a woman, would pull the younger, female, more-junior workers into her office during times of stress, sit them down, open up her bottom drawer, pull out some Luna bars, take a deep breath, and have what she called a “Luna moment.”

Why do people feel this way? I think the first layer of loyalty is they love how the bar tastes, the nutrients in it, that it’s all natural. But beyond that, they quickly move up and join the Luna movement: social purpose, balance, healthy living, wanting it all. These are very much the values we stand for, and because we have that in common with them, they feel like they’ve found a friend.


A couple of years ago, we started something on the back of the bar called “Luna Dedication,” where the women of Luna wrote personal dedications to women who have touched their lives in some way. By giving them a piece of ourselves, they feel part of the Luna family. It’s a two-way street. It keeps them excited and passionate, and it also keeps us internally passionate.

Yana Kushner was particularly moved by the woman who requested Luna wrappers in bulk so she could sew Luna purses for all of her girlfriends.

Harley-Davidson: Ride Your Heritage

Joanne Bischmann

Vice president, marketing
Harley-Davidson Inc.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


I am still awed by the lengths our customers will go to show their commitment. Recently, I saw a man who had tattooed a portrait of our four founding fathers and our 100th anniversary logo on his back. When Harley hired me 14 years ago, they told me, “This will be the best job you’re ever going to have because it isn’t just about working at a company that makes motorcycles. The founding fathers actually seep out of the walls here.” Back then I thought they were totally nuts. Now I know that that sense of freedom, individuality, independence, and irreverence has always been part of Harley.

We have a lot of people call us who want the manual on how to keep customers passionate. There’s no manual. And there are so many ways to screw this up. In the ’90s, we couldn’t satisfy demand, so people had to wait up to two years for a bike. When we would place ads, I’d personally get letters saying, “Tell me where this product is. I’ve been looking at 10 dealers, and they don’t have it.” That was really frustrating. We tried to bottle demand and show customers other opportunities to experience Harley — through the clothing, through events we hold. Don’t give up the dream. Just give us a little time. Everyone’s thinking we’ve got the best job because the product was basically sold out, but what marketing really had to do was keep relationships going.

We never forget that this is a brand that none of us can individually own. We are a tribe that carries on its traditions so it’s here for future generations.


It took Joanne Bischmann only 10 months after starting work at Harley to “get the itch” and apply for her motorcycle license.

About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton