Don’t LeBron Me Bro!*

In any relationship that truly matters–romantic, friendship or business–one of the goals is building ever deeper levels of trust and connection.

In a relationship that is thriving, the parties have turned toward each other and are moving closer to one another.  In one that is struggling, the parties are turning away from each other.  In one that is already in trouble, the parties turn their backs, often literally, but certainly metaphorically, to each other.

Both people and brands signal they are desire a connected relationship through humility, a willingness to listen and through thoughts and actions that build connection.

Which brings me to LeBron.

Over the weekend, Brand LeBron demonstrated a few things quite clearly: he is keenly interested in himself, he does not particularly want to listen and few of his actions are about connecting on any substantive level off the court.

But this blog ain’t about basketball and I’m pretty sure LeBron will be fine.  But what about your brand?

Take a look at what you do and be rigorously honest about the messages you send to your customers and prospects.  How much says you are in it for them versus just for yourself?  How much time and energy do you really put into seeking client input and acting on it?   What can you point to that clearly demonstrates you are moving to deeper levels of engagement, trust and connection?

Not too long ago I was involved with consumer research for a brand that is considered pretty good at customer service.  Yet a disturbingly large percentage of customers told us that they frequently did not get waited on by salespeople in our store, and often when they did, they got a lot of attitude from the salespeople.   They were quick to tell us about a competitor where the experience was far better.   Guess which store was getting the greatest share of their wallet?  Clearly for these consumers, many of whom were very high spending in the category, the company had turned their back on them and they had done the same to us.

In my experience, once a relationship has been “LeBronned” it’s tough to turn it around.    Maybe at your company you have the ability to get your CEO on Larry King or Oprah to do a mea culpa.  But for most of us, we have to do the work of a customer-centric strategy every day.

*Thanks to Seth Godin and one of his recent blog postings for the title inspiration.

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One thought on “Don’t LeBron Me Bro!*

  1. Steve, Yet another great post linking the brand LeBron story to brand loyalty– especially your question – “How much it says that you are in it for consumers versus just for yourself?” reminds me of the topic – brand ownership. I am sure we have heard the phrase that the brand belongs to the consumers and the firms are only borrowing it for a period of time as caretakers. Hence, I would say that our brand strategies should take more of a “borrower” approach with trust, engagement and personal connection as you have alluded. At this juncture I also recall the debacle of “New Coke?” as an example – as consumers did not like the fact that the temporary brand owners (in this case the Coca Cola company) messing around with their brand as they felt that “their” brand rights had been violated. The result – New Coke had to be thrown out and the classic form had to be returned.

    Within this thinking of a brand caretaker model – let us take the luxury fashion industry. The heritage and prestige of the brand by most part is exclusivity. In the near term, one can get a boost in luxury goods sales/profits by taking the brand to the value consumers like these high-end flash-sales sites (Gilt Groupe, RueLaLa, HauteLook, Ideeli and BeyondTheRack) did– but again, their value proposition have started fading away recently- part of the reason was that their brand exclusivity was destroyed.

    In the long-term, this will also lead to brand defection by the top 20% profitable customers as you found in your consumer research study. Once these luxury customers move away from these prestigious brands, the value consumers will no longer see the value as well (the primary reason value consumers flock the luxury brands in the first place is because of the prestige equity created by the luxury consumers!), so they will eventually deflect it as well. The end result is that the short-term gain will lead to long-term brand equity destruction.

    I am sure, you would agree that brand ownership is an interesting cyclical subject and in my opinion those firms who master the psychology behind this brand ownership will be winners in the next decade.


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