Brand loyalty vs. brand idolatry

Blake Howard and Craig Johnson

We’re in the businesses of branding. Branding is all about communication and clearly defining what makes a company, product or experience distinct and memorable from others. Companies who strive to serve customers faithfully ask in return for brand loyalty over their competitors. But can that ever cross over into something like brand idolatry?

We’ve seen the value of brand loyalty with companies such as Apple and Starbucks, but what happens when that loyalty becomes idolatrous? That’s where margins and sustainable growth are most achievable.Yet from a Christian perspective, that’s the exact opposite of what we want to see happen in people’s lives. God is a jealous God and wants no others in front of Him. After all, it is His first commandment.

Yet every day we insert tangible gods in place of an invisible One. We easily look at the story of the Israelites in the desert making golden calves, even as they’ve just been miraculously rescued, and we think, “What a bunch of idiots! How could they be so blind? I would have faith out the wahzoo if I were them.” Really? Are we that different?

While there’s nothing wrong with capitalism or building a profitable business, should a business strive to become a product or service that is worshiped by its customers?

You may think worship is a strong word, but think about what brands consume your thinking or that you find yourself marching behind. Is it the latest Apple iPhone or iPad? Is it the new black BMW 700 series with graphite self-warming seats? Is it the tantalizing allure of the Starbucks green lady?

Social media has revolutionized the idea of brand loyalty, particularly through the use of Facebook. Our lives seem deeply invested in that brand. We’ve known some to take “Facebook Fasts” even. From a strategy perspective, if you’ve developed a brand so compelling that your consumers require intentional self-discipline to take time away from it, you’ve succeeded in a huge way.

Knowing that brands have the ability to become idols begs the question, “Who’s responsible?” Is it our job as individuals to study our own hearts and not idolize the products and services we identify with? Or is it a corporation’s responsibility to make sure that they aren’t promoting their brand to be idolized? How does a company push to provide a healthy amount of value without becoming an idol?

We tend to think that it’s a personal responsibility of individuals to clear their hearts of idols. Or are we just cigarette makers blaming people for smoking too much while trying to get them to buy as many cigarettes as possible?

Blake Howard and Craig Johnson are co-founders of Matchstic, a premiere brand identity house based in Atlanta. This piece originally ran on Q.

(Illustration by Schuyler Roozeboom.)

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