What Sports Teams Teach Brands About Lovemarks

Back in 2004, Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, put out the idea of Lovemarks: Brands that rise to such a high level of love and respect that they separate from the rest of the pack. There are a lot of brands out there — most of them are ones that we might like, but not really love.

What Sports Teams Teach Brands About Lovemarks

Back in 2004, Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, put out the idea of Lovemarks: Brands that rise to such a high level of love and respect that they separate from the rest of the pack. There are a lot of brands out there — most of them are ones that we might like, but not really love.

Think of a graph, with axes going low-to-high with love and respect. On the lower-left quadrant is a commodity. On the highest end is the Lovemark.

The easiest example is thinking of coffee. In the low end of love and respect, the coffee is a commodity. On the high end is, of course, Starbucks. But, there’s a place that’s high on respect, but lower on love … that’s where Folger’s lives.

Folger’s is an iconic, well-established, and long-lasting brand … people like Folger’s. But in today’s crowded space of higher-end tastes, liking a brand oftentimes isn’t enough. Because while people like Folger’s, people love the premium brand Starbucks has created.

One of the concepts of Lovemarks is that people have “loyalty beyond reason” to these kinds of brands. We have relationships with them. After teaching brand strategy for 10 years to hundreds of students, I can confidently think everyone has a Lovemark brand. Each person has a brand they pull into their heart, and show to the world as an expression of who they are. Like a form of self-expression, we choose to show the world glimpses of our inner selves by the brands we choose.

And one of the kinds of brands that many of us use to define who we are is a sports team.

I recently attended The National Sports Forum, an incredible event founded and lead by Ron Seaver, who created an annual gathering for sales and marketing talent in the sports industry. People who work for teams from NFL, NBA, MLB, MiLB, NHL, MLS are there, sharing stories and techniques that work and don’t work, and generally learning and meeting with one another in an environment that’s best described as “The Forum Family.”

What is beautiful about the event — besides the people — is it reminds me what I teach in my class: sports teams are great examples of Lovemarks.

Because I grew up in Pittsburgh, I’m a big-time Steelers and Penguins fan. Even though my entire adult life has been in San Diego, the roots of these teams are so deep in my mind and heart that I’ve held a life-long adoration for these brands. Now, it’s not reasonable for me to expect them to win championships each year, but I still buy in, and believe in the teams. Even when they lose. Even when they break my heart.

I have loyalty beyond reason.

Just ask a green-clad fan going to last year’s Seattle Sounders title game, or the die-harder attending the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl parade. These championship teams seared enduring, unabashed, deep loyalty that goes beyond reason, into memory and emotion, of every single one of those fans. Or, ask fans of the Los Angeles Galaxy or Cleveland Browns, who didn’t enjoy the championship revelry this past season. These teams still generate love and loyalty, even through some disappointment or despair. The loyalty transcends rational thinking, and drives to the heart of a person’s identity.

I teach that you don’t have to be a big brand to be a great brand (one of my favorite brands Vibram’s is great, but not big). The great brands communicate with both love and respect to its “fans,” and the fans bring that love and respect back to them. The brands move to a place where they become part of someone’s expression of their life.

So, how can consumer, business, or nonprofit brands create this kind of loyalty? How can they become a Lovemark?

Creating a brand strategy plan around this is the first step, of course. But a plan starts with the end in mind. Instead of thinking about “gaining mindshare” or “increasing awareness,” go bigger. Think about “We want to become a part of our customers’ lives.”

To do this, every interaction needs to originate with an attitude of love and respect. It seems perhaps over-simple, but think about how you write website copy, respond to emails, answer the phones, etc. Are you acting with the highest Love and Respect for your audience? Is that what they feel when they engage with you?

No matter the size of your business, become a brand that is highest on the axes of love and respect. Become something that instills Loyalty Beyond Reason. Because when you go beyond reason into memory and emotion, you can rise up into that rarefied Lovemark status for your customers.

Author: Chris Foster

Chris Foster has been teaching Brand Strategy and Positioning at UCSD Extension since 2009. He has lead professional workshops and presented at numerous San Diego Marketing Association events as well as national events for the Direct Marketing Association; been guest lecturer at SDSU Marketing Courses; and participated in numerous professional panels.

For the past 20 years he has worked in all aspects of marketing and creative direction for start-up, growing, and established business environments. He has a passion for helping any-sized business transform their brand so they can more authentically connect with their audience.

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