Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: When Relationships With Your Favorite Brands Falter

Who or what are you loyal to? Family? Friends? Your employer? Your favorite brands?

We live in a transactional, zero-sum time. A time when many of our leaders are more than happy to throw their principles and the best interests of the country they profess to love under the bus to get re-elected. They stand up for free trade, balanced budgets and freedom of speech until it’s not convenient. Line the pockets of my contributors and cronies? I would be more than pleased to shift my position…

They are essentially telling us, cynically, that the only loyalty that matters is loyalty to self.

If this is the example set at the top, how can any of us be expected to be held to a higher standard?

Disappointing quarterly earnings? Sorry all of you employees that have been here for years and years, see you around. Sales are down? No problem. Just scapegoat your ad agency. Sure, you’ll miss some of the people that worked so hard for you, people you now consider to be good friends. But there are new potential best friends lining up to pitch your business. Is the person you’ve been dating for a few months not turning out to be the perfect soul mate? Keep swiping. There are plenty more where he or she came from.

Our attention spans are short. When it comes to our jobs, significant others, friends and especially brands, isn’t there always something better? What’s the upside to loyalty?

Speaking only for myself, I can say that my unequivocal “forever,” dedicated loyalty to my family and best friends is tremendously satisfying. As I grow older, these foundational relationships become more and more important. The fact that the people I love give back to me, providing motivation, comfort, understanding and safety is incidental. My loyalty to them provides me with a sense of purpose and identity. It’s nice to get something back – you really have to in order to sustain relationships – but the giving part of the equation far outweighs the getting.

Still, even the strongest loyalties can be tested and sometimes fail. For relationships to flourish, they must constantly be renewed. Nostalgia is not enough. If all you can talk about is that funny thing that happened junior year of high school, there’s nothing there. Memories are great, but if you’re not moving forward, constantly creating new memories, relationships will wither and die.

This is true for relationships between people as well as for those between people and brands. And these days, brand loyalty is in the tank.

I still have my favorites, and making those brand choices is still an act of affirmation. But my loyalties have dwindled to a handful of brands. This is especially true in the packaged goods realm, where, as I like to say, my favorite brand is whatever is on sale at Costco.

As documented ad nauseum, these brands have done a terrible job on many fronts, including line extending to the point of confusion, training us to buy on deal and not investing enough in brand-building or innovation. They haven’t kept up their part of the friendship bargain with any spontaneous, heartfelt acts of renewal, relying on stale brand equities and a focus on nostalgia instead.

To me, someone who has loved brands since I was a child and dedicated my career to marketing, this is a shame. Yes, plenty of new brands have emerged across a range of high- and low-tech categories. Some grab our attention and even our loyalty.  But it all seems to be ephemeral. Important as it is, even a brand like Tesla seems to be disposable.

So when there’s a hint that the break-up process with one of my “core” brands has started, it’s disturbing.

Apple, I’ve given you so many good years of my life! But what have you done for me lately?

It’s true you made my life easier back in the late 90’s with your elegant products and seamless software. Better than that, you made me feel like an innovator. “Think different!” Yes, I was a Mac, not a PC. Nothing ordinary about me. I wasn’t a number crunching drone, I was creative! A truly unique individual!

But it’s a different time now. Where are the game-changing innovations that Steve Jobs rolled out regularly? Though I hate to admit it, there is hardware and software that works just as well – maybe even better than yours. Your products still don’t play well with others. My CRM system just won’t work with anything other than Google apps. Conflict and confusion have ensued since I was forced to move to Gmail and Google Contacts. And by the way, your tech support has gone way downhill.

Last week, I actually visited a Microsoft store. Oh, the guilt!

There are some practical issues preventing me from turning away from Apple, not the least of which would be the inevitable pain that comes with changing operating systems. But the biggest drawback is emotional.

Perhaps a student of mine, a very bright young woman with a big personality, said it best. “If I start dating a man and I see that green color when he texts me, it’s over. If that text bubble isn’t not blue, I’m not interested.” She went on to suggest that any man using an Android device was cheap and likely suffered from low self-esteem.

Actually, I wouldn’t go that far. Some of my best friends are Android people. Wait, that’s wrong. All of my immediate family and closest friends are Apple users. My student was right!

I recently broke up with a Microsoft/Android woman after about two months of dating. The red flag was waving from the start. Or should I say the green flag. It was disappointing, almost disturbing, seeing that first, non-Apple/not blue text message. I wondered why she didn’t have an iPhone. She was educated, successful and oh so cosmopolitan. Of course, with great tact, I had to ask.

Not only was her response unconvincing, but she tried much too hard, arguing a bit too passionately about the superiority of Samsung phones and how Apple was simply passé.  I found this to be similar to the phenomenon of San Franciscans constantly carping about how superior their city and people are as compared to Los Angeles. Really? We don’t even think about them! Why bother? It’s great here…

Still, the sad day when I abandon Apple will inevitably come around. Breaking up is hard to do. Especially with those we love. With loyalty on the wane, will we ever love as well again?

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