Seems like everyone these days is a copycat. Brands who used to mean something are now trying to predict where culture is going so they can run to the front and pretend they were always leading the parade. Understanding and practicing love is the difference between brands that use people and brands that really serve people.
Love, it’s a lot of things. But if it’s not practical, it doesn’t matter. This is part of a series where we explore what branding could be if we can set our minds right. And it pairs well with the book we’re writing about how branding should be done. Check it out.
But first, a note. I’m not the most sentimental person, so normally I’d be the last person you’d want to talk about love. But if we’re talking about the truth of love, that’s a whole ‘nother story. I believe in how love connects us with others and how we’re meant to interact with each other, whether we realize why or not. Love is practical. And if it’s not, it’s hypocritical.
Brands don’t love. People do.
Once we get past the hyperbolic claims that brands somehow create value, we realize that brands don’t have the power unless the people within those brands choose to love. A brand, then, finds its rightful place as a symbol. A symbol of a set of values and a group of people who practice those values. Humans have a hard time making this distinction sometimes. There are many ways in which humans see brands as if they’re literally other people. But in the end, the government, Proctor & Gamble, and Disneyland don’t care about you. That said, we still hope that there’s a culture full of people who care about their customers and demonstrate that they care. We feel their care to the extent that they work together to love, serve and create for their customers.
Love without action is worthless.
This brings us to love. If not used and put into practice, it’s worthless. In this article will talk about three myths of love and then we’ll talk about three ways to live it out in a practical way every day in your organization and with people around you.
Humanity has popularized 3 myths about love.
Myth: You have to fall in love.
In reality, our will has a ton to do with it. Practical ways of loving include doing good things for people when you can’t get credit. Even for people who don’t like you. This gives a certain freedom and even leadership in the relationship, since you’re taking the moral high ground. But not just so you can occupy the high ground, but so you can get up there, extend a hand, and lift up others.
Myth: Love is what you do when you want people to like you.
In other words, if you’re acting a certain way to get people to like you, that’s selfish, not loving. People do this when we justify the bad behavior of our friends because we want to be the one to say the nicest thing to them. Politicians do this when they pander, selling us something that will hurt us but will get our votes. And brands do this when they tell us what we want to hear in order to sell us stuff.
The premise of this whole month is that were made for relationship. People are made from relationship and for relationships. In order to build relationships, we need a better definition of love than “being nice to you so I can use you.”
Myth: Love is too big for definition.
We know this is a myth because we just described examples of manipulation masked as love. If love has no definition, then everything is love and nothing is love. Because that’s what it means when words have no definition. They practically cease to exist because they’re not useful for describing any actual though.
Love is either true (real; with a definition), or it’s hypocrisy. It doesn’t matter if we have “good” motives for changing love’s definition. If we have to lie about what love means in order to sell something, maybe we should develop a more concrete philosophy for that which we’re selling, verifying that it really is loving, before we sell it as such.
What is Love?
Let’s talk about a few different definitions of love in ancient Greek, which is notoriously specific about the kinds of affinity we have toward people and things and how they are applied. This could help us to understand love a little better.
Why does this matter? Because vocabulary makes us better philosophers. In George Orwell’s book, “1984,” the fictional central government has outlawed certain words. Those words referred to thoughts and behaviors that the government considered problematic. Orwell’s point is that the people’s ability to do philosophy suffered because they lacked a “handle” or symbol to attach to those distinct word meanings. This cost them greatly in their ability to talk about and analyze concepts like love.
Love is Serious Business.
That’s great for philosophers, but why is it important for my business? In English, we use the word love for lots of things. But in Greek, it’s broken down into helpful definitions.
We may be familiar with terms like eros, from which we get romantic love, and storge, which is parental love. But agape and phileo are both much more appropriate when you’re serving customers and colleagues. They apply directly to business and brand.
Agape is the ancient Greek word that describes the kind of love that transcends what they (the object of your love) can do for you or what they offer. If someone is ugly and evil, with literally nothing to offer you, this is the kind of love that allows you to see them as imbued with value because they’re a person. And this love even goes so far as to hope that they become good.
This is demonstrated when you have a trouble-client, but you hope the best for them, even deciding to do good things for them without telling them. This creates feelings inside of you that actually allow you to have a lot of confidence in that relationship. Because you’re caring about them without them knowing it, and that does something good to us. In this kind of love, you don’t really have to like somebody in the traditional sense.
Phileo is the ancient Greek word for a non-romantic, brotherly love. That’s why Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love. It’s a direct translation of the name. This can be between friends or family or someone who you fight a war alongside. When you come out of a hard situation and you consider the man to the right and left of you as brothers, this is the kind of thing we’re talking about. It’s like Hoot said at the end of Black Hawk Down. You fight for the man to the right and left of you.
Before we get to how you can love people through your brand, let’s talk about love’s relationship with truth and action.
Full of Truth and Action
Let’s get to the meat of this topic. Love passes the test of application; in other words, a truthful love can be applied in the following ways. And if it can’t be consistently applied, maybe it’s not really love at all.
Anyone who thinks that love doesn’t require action probably doesn’t have the best relationships. The reason we get up in the middle of the night to help a friend isn’t that we’re so filled with emotion. It’s because they need it. So we embrace the suck of waking up in the middle of the night and stumble out the door to be there for them. Love means action.
Let’s talk about the components of love in action.
Decide to love people and want what’s best for them. This creates very little conflict, because it doesn’t ask you to make things easy for people. It doesn’t mean that you don’t fire an employee or tell a customer that they should try another company, because you know that may be what’s best for everyone involved. This shows them the dignity of being honest with them and gives them the opportunity to grow.
It doesn’t mean it’s what they want to hear or that it will be easy for them. It won’t make them love you and it won’t make them happy in the short-term. The question is, am I willing to do the right thing, even when it’s hard, or am I just trying to make things good for me?
Practically, patience means cultivating an attitude that allows you to be okay with bad results. In other words, you don’t let them affect you personally, making you worried and anxious. If you think of this as an act of love and not just a way to be more effective in life, this becomes something that’s others-centered.
I used to teach a 200-student class at the University of Oregon. I hated the size of the class. It didn’t let me interact with students very well, and I found myself getting very annoyed by some of the students’ behavior. But I also didn’t like it when I lost my cool and got irritated with them. So I started a tactic that I had learned a long time ago. I started being more patient with people throughout the day leading up to that class, settling into an attitude of forgiveness and patience. And not only did my whole day go better, but the class went a lot better. I was more the presenter I wanted to be, and found myself more relaxed and clever, enjoying the conversations with more of my students, even in a larger class. In a weird way, patience gave me confidence and joy.
But just so we don’t think this is all about us, consider employee development or even client development. If you can maintain patience with a client, you’re much more likely to find common ground and be able to negotiate. In Chris Voss’ book “Never Split the Difference,” he advocates keeping your cool. You have to maintain your cool to open communication. You have to give every indication that they can talk to you. That they can give you information that will help you make a better deal with them. If they feel that you’re impatient with them, that you’re just trying to get what you want and then get it over with, that’s a great way to raise suspicion.
But the best brands use patience, not only to make better decisions and keep their cool in tough situations, but also to help others. To serve.
Another part of telling the truth to people is to tell it with kindness. Sometimes it’s difficult to feel kind when you have to tell someone something that you’re frustrated by. Frustration does not lead to kindness. Frustration leads to getting in front of a class and getting irritated with them (like I did). Not cool.
This allows us to see them as they are. We don’t have to agree with them. But we do have to serve them and show love, if they’re our customer (if they’re not your customer, kindly tell them there are other options). Remarkable organizations, once again, are based on relationship. If we forget to lift others up and allow them to lift us up, we are not performing in a way that we were meant to perform as people. We are meant to relate to each other.
Truth-telling is one thing we don’t think of as a part of this relational system that we call love. Yet love and truth are two sides of the same coin.
Warren Wiersbe said “Truth without love is tyranny, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” Truth is a vital partner in this relationship. After all, if you love someone, but won’t tell them the truth, except in special circumstances perhaps, your love is not real. It’s hypocrisy. On the other hand, if you tell someone the truth, enjoying the fact that they won’t like it, this is a kind of tyranny. Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you get to forget about love. But just because you feel emotions doesn’t mean you get to forget about truth.
And this is a big problem among brands today. Who’s willing to speak up against solar power or for gen-4 nuclear? Everyone’s waiting for the permission of the news media or for someone else to go first. We’re inconsistent when we refuse to work toward creating clarity, pointing out the flaws of certain ideas, and working toward something good. A republic like ours will benefit if people become apprised of the tradeoffs inherent in different technologies. Brands are more capable of doing this than many media outlets.
Especially as marketing leaders, we have to remember that we’re here to create order. The idea of truth informs the kinds of things you say in your advertising. And it informs the kinds of relationships that you want with your clients.
It doesn’t get more practical than that. We’re talking about honesty, truth and Love.
Love is Your Bottom Line
So love doesn’t “conquer all” unless love is based in truth. I chose one wife so that I could love her as I think I should. That means saying no to other opportunities and focusing on her and my children. In other words, love says “no.” Love also dictates that my brand can’t make promises to the world that I have no will or ability to execute.
How does love look to your brand? Ideally, it will not just be kind, but also true. Not only that, but you’ll rise to the top of where your brand can go in the minds of your customers. And it’s not because you’re following pop culture. It’s because you know who you are, you know who your customer is, and you want to create a truthful, relationship that provides meaning and some form of leadership and contribution to their lives.
They may not trust you right off the bat, but given time, as they see your love proved over and over again in the kind of work you do, your love for the work you do, and your commitment to serving people well, you could find that in the minds of your clients, there is now no replacement for you.