Is Your Brand A Lovemark Or Trustmark?

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This article in Harvard Health Blog in many ways mirrors why consumers take comfort in choosing branded products generally:

  • Having a brand name means they know what to ask for
  • They believe in the quality that they associate with the brand
  • The distribution system believes in the brand

It got me thinking about the differences between a “lovemark” and a “trustmark”. Both are words used to describe the effects of branding, but while some brand marketers (including the originator of the term “lovemarks”, Kevin Roberts) seem to use the terms interchangeably, and while I too have tended to treat them the same way because they are emotionally-motivated, I’m starting to wonder whether a distinction should be made.

If there were a distinction, it might be this. Lovemarks want consumers to behave passionately. Trustmarks encourage consumers to behave faithfully.

Not every consumer product purchase decision is governed by passion. Security, well being, companionship … these and other human needs are compelling but not necessarily as buzzworthy as the latest technology release. As consumers continue to be concerned about, and wary of, bad behaviors, compromised replicas and misleading claims, the search for trustmarks has also broadened. Now it doesn’t just apply to obvious areas such as food and health – it’s increasingly a deciding factor in areas such as banking, investment and insurance; areas where passion doesn’t necessarily drive consumer decisions.

Perhaps a distinction needs to be made on that basis then between feel good and feel great brands. The former are the brands that we trust and believe in ethically, for those decisions where dependability matters. We want to know we are making the right decision. The latter are the exciting, heady brands that provide adventure and stimulus in a world where boredom and attention thresholds are lower than ever. We want to know we are making a decision we’ll enjoy.

It’s interesting that while the author of the Harvard blog post argues that “Every medicine has a generic name. It is almost always the name of the drug’s active compound. Brand names are added by the marketing department of pharmaceutical companies”, the reasons given in the post for why so many consumers still insist on branded drugs are revealing.

Consumers trust what they feel they know, and clinical reassurance to the contrary is not necessarily going to convince them otherwise. Branded drugs aren’t lovemarks – because no-one enjoys being sick or needing treatment. But they could of course be trustmarks.

I was interested to see Marc Mathieu expressing the wish recently for consumers to view the Unilever brand as “a platform for them to change their behavior and their attitude to make sustainable living easy, more desirable, more rewarding, but through the lens of our brands.”

“ … We want to use the Unilever brand as a trustmark for sustainable living. We have started to build Unilever as a house of purposeful brands and this puts them all under an umbrella that brings our main purpose to make sustainable living commonplace to life.”

Clearly Mathieu’s view is that purpose and responsibility will underpin belief and trust in Unilever overall. They’re building faith. I’m particularly taken with this thought later in the same interview, “Marketing used to be about creating myth and telling it now it is about finding a truth and sharing it.” And that surely is what you’d want a trustmark to do. Find a connecting point with consumers about things that hold true for them in their world.

Lovemarks and trustmarks do share this. They both prosper because of inclination. While it’s relatively easy to replace or match an ingredient or even an idea, it’s much harder to duplicate or surpass a sentiment. I’m not qualified to make a judgment on generic drugs vs branded pharmaceuticals. But one thing is clear. More marketers should focus more strongly on how they want consumers to feel about what they are buying rather than explaining what they are getting for what they are paying.

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