EDITOR'S CUT

Loyalty, Advocacy and Instant Lunch

A couple of months ago, I came across a t-shirt at Target that made me smile. It was a simple enough purchase – a white t-shirt with the Maruchan Instant Lunch logo emblazoned on the front. But I HAD to have it.

For those of you somehow NOT in the know, Maruchan Instant Lunch is that silly happy round face looking back at you from a cup of salty instant noodles. Not to be confused with Cup o Noodles… Maruchan produces over 3.6 billion packages of the overly salty yet unmistakably delicious cup of happiness per year. It is, without DOUBT, my guilty pleasure.

There was little about my own fandom that could have prepared me for the public reaction to my t-shirt. I’ve owned logo shirts before – my New England Patriots shirt gets mixed reviews depending on where I have travelled, my Sriracha and Tabasco shirts get a chuckle or two. But the Maruchan shirt… whole different story.

On my last flight back home, I was stopped by a TSA agent, a Starbucks barista, the lady at the Hudson News, a travelling field hockey team and the gate agent for my flight… everyone wanting to just confirm that Maruchan Instant Lunch is awesome and therefore, my shirt was awesome. In the three months I have owned this shirt, it has started no fewer than 50 conversations about a food product that is essentially fried noodles, salt, fake chicken flavor and hot water topped with some salt and then mixed together in a decidedly environmentally unsafe Styrofoam cup... that was coated in salt.

But for everyone who sees the logo, it means something different… just like it meant something different to me when I first saw the logo. To me, it makes me laugh since Maruchan Instant Lunch along with its spicy Korean cousin, Shin Ramyun, was the food craving of my pregnancy. I would DREAM of it, and apparently even talk about in my sleep, asking if I could the noodles WITH my avocado toast.

Without question or doubt, this logo on a t-shirt elicits reaction: joy, humor, hunger… emotion.

Emotion? In Marketing you say? RIDICULOUS! And that’s exactly the problem isn’t it? Emotional connections are HARD to forge. They demand a relationship be built and constantly and consistently affirmed. It demands that instead of a roadmap for campaign deployments, we have to actually sit back and think about how our dance partner might want to feel or which way they want to sway. We don’t get to just blast. We have to put down our marketing weapons of choice.

In our quest to optimize our campaigns, we lost sight of the customer… lost sight of their humanity and emotion. If you don’t believe me… listen to your peers. When the CMO Council asked what the greatest engagement challenge marketing teams and their overarching organizations had to face in the next 12 months, 41 percent said they would need to fight to remember that they are actually building relationships and not just deploying campaigns. Some 27 percent actually admitted their greatest relationship building challenge would be thinking of their customers as human beings and not targets, records of opportunities. 

We have lost sight of the TSA agent that looks up from the row of bags being pushed into the scanner and shouts about a product with glee just because a passenger is wearing a logo t-shirt. Instead, we target her with ads because of her digital profile, past engagement or any number of factors that make up our data and analytics engine.

I get it… nowhere in our profile is “likes to shout about their love of a product in crowded spaces” embedded in our critical fields. But maybe it should be. Maybe, if we want to develop the depth of relationship that Cheetah Digital, our partners in an upcoming paper, call Emotional Loyalty, we need to not only create that field, but start to really know and understand what that field means so we can constantly prove that Estella, our TSA agent in Aisle 4 at Phoenix Skyharbor Airport, is right to entrust us with her personal data and insight about her behaviors, likes, dislikes and loves.

Maybe, we should take every chance we can to listen to her, thank her for shouting her brand loyalty at a random passenger. Maybe, we should even empower her to tell other people that she saw her favorite brand on a shirt today and shout with glee at the mere thought of eating a hot cup of salty ramen.

The trick with emotions is that they are uniquely and exquisitely human. But to track that emotion, to capture it, understand it, study it and even leverage and grow it, we need data and technology to help empower our marketing and experience delivery, which can be uniquely and exquisitely NOT human in the slightest. Automation on its own is, by design, anonymous and sterile. Relationships are not. It will take another human, lets for argument sake call this human a CMO, to bring the humanity and emotion back to the loyalty equation and drive relationships… not just campaigns and a PowerPoint deck we call strategy.

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