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Brand Admiration: Why Some Brands Are Loved Unconditionally (and What You Can Learn From Them)

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You're hours away from taking the trip of a lifetime to Europe. French vineyards. Swiss mountains. Greek islands. You've saved up all your vacation time. You can't wait!

You're about to walk out the door, and your phone buzzes. It's a text message from the airline.

The plane that's supposed to take you away to paradise has been taken out of commission because of a mechanical issue (that's their fault!), and you can't leave until tomorrow.

How would you react in that scenario?

If you're like most of us, you'd lash out—demanding accountability from the airline and airing your grievances to anyone who would listen.

But one airline's flyers tend to respond very differently.

The Power of Trust, Love, and Respect

Unlike most of its competitors, Virgin America—which has finished atop the annual Airline Quality Ratings for four consecutive years—tends to catch less flak from customers when something goes wrong. Take, for instance, this recent exchange via Twitter:

If Spirit Airlines—which ranked last on the 2016 Airline Quality Ratings—had made the same mistake, how do you think its customers would have responded? (Hint: Check out #SpiritAirlines on Twitter.)

So, why the difference?

Two words: brand admiration—a new concept about to be introduced by marketing researchers C. Whan Park, Deborah J. MacInnis, and Andreas B. Eisingerich in their forthcoming book, Brand Admiration: Building a Business People Love.

At a high level, brand admiration can be defined as unconditional love for a company. That particular brand is part of who they are (think "Mac people") and what they stand for.

That kind of relationship between brand and brand admirer isn't accidental or the result of good fortune. Rather, according to the researchers, it hinges on a company's methodic and strategic commitment to developing three key pillars of brand admiration:

  1. Trust is achieved when a brand helps its admirers feel empowered, in-control, confident, or relieved of a particular pain point.
  2. Love is fostered when a brand stimulates senses of warmth, gratitude, nostalgia, and empathy.
  3. Respect is earned when a brand's beliefs, principles, hopes, and vision are in harmonious alignment with the people it serves.

Just how valuable are those pillars?

Done right, brand admiration begets extreme feelings of loyalty and advocacy among customers, partners, fans, and employees. When someone feels deep resonance with a brand, it becomes part of their sense of self. Over time, this level of admiration can yield enormous bottom-line benefits, the research by Park, MacInnis, and Eisingerich shows. Among those benefits:

  • Valuable repeat-purchase patterns
  • Unabashed public promotion of the brand
  • Higher tolerance for mistakes and missteps
  • Stronger talent acquisition and retention
  • Improved employee morale
  • Expanded alliance and partnership opportunities

Very simply: When companies have high brand admiration, they also experience explosive revenue growth and improved cost efficiencies, and far greater access to the very best talent and partnerships.

Is Your Brand Admired?

The concept of brand admiration is industry-agnostic.

Although the words "brand admiration" tend to evoke visions of B2C brands like Virgin, Apple, and Nike, the reality is that admiration is just as valuable to B2B businesses as it is to consumer brands. Just ask Costco, Salesforce, IBM, and Buffer—big and small B2B brands that invested heavily in developing brand admiration and have reaped the rewards of that strategy.

Now, here's the million (or billion) dollar question: Is brand admiration something your business is getting right? Or is it an area in need of serious improvement?

To answer those questions, you first need to ask and answer these three questions:

  1. Does my brand excite and inspire people?
  2. Do people feel gratified by my brand?
  3. Does my brand motivate them to do something great?

The good news: any business can cultivate relationships with its customers, partners, and employees that are deeply rooted in trust, love, and respect. Doing that, however, requires an understanding of who your stakeholders are, what they really need and value, and how your business can deliver those things in a way that's pleasing, fun, interesting, and emotionally satisfying.

In a subsequent series of articles, we'll help you better understand the pillars of brand admiration (with concrete examples from both B2B and B2C businesses) and create a plan to begin your quest toward brand utopia.

The goal is to explore examples of brand admiration in action and develop a framework for understanding how to develop brand admiration in three key areas: enablement, enticement, and enrichment.

Stay tuned!

If you'd like to learn more about brand admiration and the framework that Park, MacInnis, and Eisengerich have developed, check out their brand admiration website, full of helpful information and resources to help you assess your company's level of brand admiration.

Articles in this series:

  1. Brand Admiration: Why Some Brands Are Loved Unconditionally (and What You Can Learn From Them)
  2. Brand Admiration and the Power of Love: Build a Brand That People Adore
  3. Is Your Brand Trusted? Here's What Happens When It Is—and Isn't
  4. Brand Admiration and the Value of Respect: How to Build a Revered Brand
  5. Brand Admiration: Three Powerful Bottom-Line Benefits of Being Admired
  6. The Saving Grace of Brand Admiration: 3 Companies, 3 Mistakes, 3 Different Outcomes

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Josh Zywien is a content marketer who writes for MarketingProfs: Made to Order, Original Content Services, which helps clients generate leads, drive site traffic, and build their brands through useful, well designed content.

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  • by Mike Gray Tue Jul 5, 2016 via web

    Well, I downloaded the white paper and I will probably buy their book because I am a sucker for any new brand book. Over thirty years, I have quite a stack, each promises new thinking. But permit me to be cynical.

    "Admiration" is simply another abstract level added on top of the brand jargon heap that clients are supposed to juggle. You can find it in the writing of Drucker, Porter, Kotler, Aaker, and a host of lesser knowns. Of course it can be supported with tons of research. Go to Amazon (powerful, but not sure admired) and check out the authors' other selections: Brand Relationships, Brand Attachment, Brand Meaning, Brand Management (this last one really needed some imagination). Me thinks this is another way to repack thinking, add a twist and sell it as a front-end to a consultant relationship. I get it ... wish I would of done ...and actually admire it. All the stuff that gets you admired, is all the stuff that separates strong brands from weaker copy cats - our business has simply dumbed down what strong means. Now we seem to imply there are levels of "strong."

    There is more than enough room to help clients and marketers see, understand, and do the basics that lead to strong brands. Really "admire" - in your gut - your customers and you stand a good chance of being admired as a brand. Be tuned to what is valuable to customers. Make something valuable. Pay attention to the experience around the product. Deliver consistently. Connect emotionally. Communicate clearly.

    The Virgin tweet examples in this article come from this point-of-view. So when is the new book out, I want to buy it and add to my stack.

  • by Allen Tue Jul 5, 2016 via web

    Hi Mike
    The book will be out in a few months (Wiley is publishing it). Yes, admiration is a word people throw around, but this book is first to make clear what admiration means. Anyway, I'll let the authors know you find it interesting.
    Thanks, Allen

  • by Josh Zywien Tue Jul 5, 2016 via web

    Thanks for reading, Mike! Trust me—I'm as much a skeptic of "new" marketing and branding concepts as anyone. And I couldn't agree more with your second to last paragraph.

    That said, I read the manuscript and I came away very impressed with how the authors present and package the research behind brand admiration. It's not a composite of regurgitated ideas repackaged as something new. The book is chock-full of great examples and actionable takeaways that can be applied to virtually any business. Some of the basic principles might seem obvious on the surface, but if they were easy to execute then every brand would be admired. This book is an effective, easy-to-follow roadmap for doing the things—some of them basic, some of them more complex and nuanced—that lead people to feel empowered, enabled, and inspired by a brand. Those feelings yield admiration, which in turn yields loyalty and advocacy.

    So, yes—I understand the instinct to be cynical. But having read the book, I highly doubt you'll be disappointed. Thanks again for reading through the post and sharing your thoughts!

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