Brand & Me

by: B. S. Wijaya

This all began one night with an urge to watch a simple, undemanding movie called “Marley and Me.” I was intrigued. When the promotion trailer was shown in theaters a few weeks before the actual film was run, it only presented a few simple scenes of a small dog running on a beachfront, chased by a few adults shouting its name: “Marleeeeyy…,” followed by the title “Coming Soon.” All so simple, so uncomplicated, and yet –for me –so intriguing.

My feelings were answered when I watched the movie and it turned out to be quite an inspiring experience. The story starts with a friend’s suggestion that John Grogan, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, buy himself a dog to give him and his wife, Jen a taste of parenthood.

The couple went to visit a local pet shop where they bought themselves a small dog – for cheap because it was unwanted – and called it Marley, after the late Bob Marley, the singer. But soon the forewarnings about the dog’s ill behavior were proved true. Marley was hyperactive and uncontrollable. It ran through the house all day, biting and tearing at almost everything that came in his sight and eating more than his normal portion of dog food. He really wreaks havoc, gets kicked out of obedience school.

But surprisingly when Jen lost her first-born baby at its birth, Marley showed his tender side, sitting quietly on Jen’s lap, allowed the brokenhearted woman to embrace it and dry her tears on its furry head. From that moment on, Jen and John gave Marley all the love he deserved as a member of the family.

Until one day, Jen, who by now had to look after two toddlers plus the unruly Marley, aired her feelings of depression on John. When John reminded her that it was all because of her own choice, Jen told him she was depressed not because she had given up her job to look after her family, but because of the unruliness of a small dog called Marley.

Now imagine. What if Marley was a consumer, chosen by us from out of so many market segments to be a target for our product’s brand. What if – when within one specific category everyone controlled the same segment – we had the nerve to choose one particular segment that few other marketers wanted?  To look after it, we create new market opportunities, but when times get rough, crisis looms and challenges emerge, when competitors intensify their attacks, we regret our own choice?  Quite a number of marketers would hastily redefine their segments or broaden their segments in order to secure their brand. But let us learn from Jen.

“Honey I’m so sorry,” Jen said sadly to John when she hear Marley had been evacuated to avoid her angry.  “I wasn’t going anywhere. I’ve just got for around,” she expressed her connection with Marley.

One fact is often overlooked by marketers. Building a brand relationship is important. However unruly our customers may be, we must not give up building a caring relationship with them. Jen realized that she had tended to put the blame on circumstances while in reality the blame was on her not being patient and committed enough. We often tend to demand only the loyalty of our customers, forgetting that we ourselves lack in loyalty to them. When a brand crisis occurs, many marketers tend to become skeptical and say that consumer demand is becoming more difficult to gauge, that they are becoming more capricious, and even more so when the number of competitors within the same category is growing.

The marketer then begins to “betray” the segment by shifting his focus away and offering goods it does not want, ignoring protests. But if only a little patience could be exerted, one would find that the key to the problem would be to see to it that the brand remained connected to the consumer and vice-versa the consumer to the brand.

Over time, change is certain to come, new challenges are certain to emerge, and yet the harmonious relationship is sure to be preserved. Up to the moment when Jen and Josh had to take care of their three lovable children, they remained true to Marley, who was now getting old and frail. Every day when the school bus brought the children back home from school, the now infirm Marley would be waiting for them at the curbside, wagging its tail. Until and beyond the moment of Marley’s death, the Grogan family remained true in its love for Marley, the wayward dog.

How strong and beautiful was the connection between Marley and the Grogans to be able to forge such a lasting loving relationship. There is no better way to build such a similarly long-lasting brand loyalty than by continually nurturing this brand relationship in order to ensure that brand and consumer remain connected. How then to build such a connection so that it can withstand to onslaught of time?

To quote John’s words, subtitled at the end of the story: “Just give your heart to him, and then he will give his heart to you.”

Have we, through our brand, given our heart to our consumers?