Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Opposite of Love

There’s a type of married couple who acts in a seemingly odd manner. I’m sure you’ve known couples like this. One minute they will be passionately in love with each other. The next minute, they are going at each other with a hatred like blood enemies.

One time I heard a commentary by a marriage counselor explaining this phenomenon. He said that we find this behavior to be odd because we believe that love and hate are opposites. Based on this assumption, we are puzzled how a couple can switch on and off what appear to be opposite feelings towards each other.

In reality, however, this counselor said that we are mistaken in believing that love and hate are opposites. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference. Love and hate come from the same source: intense passion. Indifference is the lack of any passion.

As long as there is passion in the relationship (positive or negative), one has an opportunity to shape the passion in a healthy direction. However, once there is nothing left but indifference towards each other, there is little one can do. The relationship has little chance of blossoming.

The relationship between a customer and your product can be like a marriage. If the customer holds passionate feelings towards your offering, then there can be a healthy (and rather profitable) lifelong bond. However, if the mention of your offering evokes nothing but indifference in the person, it will be extremely difficult to build any type of profitable relationship.

Therefore, the goal is not to eliminate hatred of your product. In fact, as we will see later in this blog, having a segment who hates your product can be a great asset. Instead eliminating hatred, the goal is to eliminate indifference towards your product.

The principle we are looking at here is the benefit of incorporating features into the design of your product or strategy that will be offensive to some people. Now do not be mistaken. The goal here is not to be offensive just for the sake of being offensive. This is not about just trying to shock people needlessly or make a mockery of societal values just to create anger.

This is about trying to create a brand or a product that people can get passionate about. Invariably, the products that tend to evoke some of the strongest positive passion in a group of consumers will also create some of the strongest negative passion in a different group of consumers. What some people love will be found offensive or hated by others.

Often times, in an attempt not to turn anyone off on a product, we create something that doesn’t turn anyone on. We get very cautious and conservative so that we avoid controversy. The problem is that about the only way to make a product that is completely inoffensive to the greater population is to build something that evokes nothing but indifference. Blandness may not get people mad at you, but it won’t create the type of love that rings the cash register, either.

So we should not be afraid or concerned when our strategy evokes some negative feelings in a segment of the population. This is not the opposite of our desire for success by getting people to love our product. Instead, it is an indication that we have successfully tapped into some deep emotional passions. The opposite of our goal is finding out that people are so indifferent to our product that is creates no passion, for or against.

Remember, we do not have to get everyone love us in order to be successful. We only need to have a segment of the population love us—a segment who passionately wants to spend so much money on us that we can be profitable. I would rather try to get a few dollars apiece from a handful of passionate advocates, than try to get a penny or two apiece from a large crowd of people indifferent to my offering.

Look at Harley Davidson, a profitable company with passionate customers who love everything the company stands for. They love the brand so much that they will buy almost anything you put the logo on. Yet there are many who find the Harley Davidson lifestyle to be offensive and are repulsed by what it stands for. In some ways the two groups feed off each other, creating a virtuous cycle for Harley Davidson. Because some people look down on the Harley crowd, it makes the Harley crowd tend to rally around each other closer for moral support. Feeling rejected by the masses makes them cling even deeper to those that understand them and care about what they care about. Hence, the rejection by others creates a greater love within the sub-group for each other and the brand that brings them together. Greater hatred by others creates greater love in the core consumer base.

Robert A. Lutz has spent a lifetime working in the automobile industry, working his way up to top positions at both Chrysler and General Motors. Lutz is firm believer in designing automobiles that evoke strong passion, be it positive or negative. People will pay full price for a car they are passionate about. You have to give away large rebates to sell a car that evokes indifference. To quote Robert Lutz from back in his days as Vice Chairman of Chrysler (in 1998), “Chrysler’s success in the last few years has been predicated on the belief that you deliberately have to be a little wild with products—even at the risk of polarizing consumers—if you want them to stand out in a crowded market.”

When customers are passionate about your product, they become your best sales people. Passion gets people talking. Even if the passion by many is negative, they get the dialog started and get you noticed.

Many people love the New York Yankees. Many people hate the New York Yankees. Many people flock to the ball park to see the Yankees because they want to see the Yankees win. Others flock to the ball park because they want to see the Yankees lose. Either way, people are flocking to the ball park, and baseball is better off.

Some people love to be associated with winners. Other people have a passion for supporting the underdog. You cannot have winners unless you also have underdogs, and vice versa. Passion requires that both exist. Therefore, you can be successful appealing to either side of the passion and not care about offending the other. For without the offense of the other side, your side could not exist.

During the height of the cola wars, both Coke and Pepsi benefited from having the other company around. They were able to polarize the market into competing camps—the traditionalists and the non-conformists. This created greater passion for each brand, both positive and negative. Pity the poor cola that stood for nothing.

So the next time someone tells you that you cannot do something because it might be offensive to some people, just smile and keep on the path. Provided there are enough people to embrace your offering, it doesn’t matter who doesn’t like it. In fact, the more some people hate it, the more others may embrace it even tighter.

In product or strategy development, the goal is not to minimize hatred. The goal is to minimize indifference. Passion and profits are closely linked. Eliminate the passion and you eliminate the profits. If you try to minimize the hatred, you usually end up with a blandness that eliminates all passion.

Just as young lovers can be fickle and fall in and out of love quickly, so customers can lose their passion for your product. Don’t take their loyalties for granted. You need to continue to continually woo them.

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