Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ben & Jerry’s: Lovemark

A lot of Lovemark stories come my way. People love talking about their Lovemarks and always try to convince others to share the love. We call these people Inspirational Consumers. They’re the ones who start fan clubs, write letters of praise and criticism to businesses, give their ideas on how the Lovemark could be improved, and as we saw a couple of weeks ago with Tropicana, fight for what they love.

A few weeks ago I had an insightful email from Bulent Keles who lives in Istanbul. His Lovemark (along with 20 other people on, including Simone, who says the Brownie Batter flavor makes her heart flutter) is Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. On his site, Bulent relates a classic Lovemarks story.

To get the right emotional intensity, you first have to understand how much Bulent loves his ice cream. “Back when I was a student I used to buy and store my favorite brands as if there was a war coming and I was afraid to run out of ice cream.” Get the picture? So you can imagine how Bulent felt when, after spending $10 on his favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor, Vanilla Toffee Crunch, he got home to find this treasure was tainted. As Bulent says, they pay a premium in Turkey for high quality ice cream so he was definitely not happy. In fact, he acknowledges he was angry.

Now in my experience, most people when confronted with this situation feel surprised, then disappointed, and then usually decide never to buy the product again. Sometimes they’ll return the product to the store but often weeks go by and their only connection with the product that remains is the determination not to buy it again. That is not the way it is with people and their Lovemarks, and it is certainly not the way with Inspirational Consumers.

Bulent did not return the ice cream to the store. His emotional relationship was with Ben & Jerry’s, not the store, so he was not about to be put off by a stand-in. He went to the source and called customer service. Lovemarks always have some love in the bank that encourages people to work through a disappointment rather than be turned off forever. We’re talking Loyalty Beyond Reason. And that’s why this story got to me. The people in customer service got it right – they were concerned and they made Bulent feel he mattered. As Bulent explains, he started to feel comforted and reassured. The next day a man with a name (a real person, not a sales operative) called to make an appointment for delivery and duly turned up with two tubs of replacement ice cream. They could have sent them by courier, but they didn’t. They transformed a routine transaction (replace faulty product) with a relationship (send Mr Nadir) and enhanced Bulent’s commitment to Ben & Jerry’s.

Now none of this is a big deal from a process perspective, but brands so often fall down at this critical point. You can talk about consumer focus and service but there are moments of truth when you deliver or you fail, you deserve Lovemark status, or you don’t, you protect your premium, or you lose it. When every sale counts, the power of Inspirational Consumers cannot be over-estimated.