Did you get a letter from someone who was offended by your latest TV spot? Did someone send you an email saying you suck? Do you have a group of angry folks boycotting your brand?

You should be smiling. Having someone hate you lets you know you're doing a good job of branding.

We all know our goal should be to evoke an emotional reaction in the consumer. But many marketers get so hung up on trying to evoke positive reactions that they pander to every possible audience that has a checkbook.

When you put a stake in the ground and say "this is who I am," you are also saying "this is who I'm not." Identity is all about creating parameters, drawing lines among the wealth of possible attributes out there, shaping what your brand values and what it doesn't. So when you get a hostile member of society that takes time out of his busy day to let you know about it, be glad—you're conveying a definite sense of brand self.

So What?

You might be thinking: How does that help my bottom line? The people who hate my brand aren't buying.

Here's the deal: If your brand is clearly defined enough to have the power to attract enemies, it also has the power to attract raving fans. And the raving fans of your brand are the ones who return again and again. They're the ones who will tell their friends about you. They're the ones who will wear your logo. They're the ones that almost enjoy the annoyance of your brand-haters and will keep coming back for more.

  • Abercrombie & Fitch. Google this retailer, and you'll get a wide array of passionate opinions. There are blogs out there on the Web where teenagers argue back and forth on whether A&F "sucks" or is "the bomb." On Amazon.com, you'll find a book called Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch. One company is parodying the brand with T-shirts emblazoned with "Aberzombie." This brand has managed to create some fiery enemies. Some kids feel the brand appeals to suckers who are so spoiled they'd rather spend $200 for ripped jeans than do it themselves. Preppy teens like the beachy feel, the sex appeal of the advertising and the fact that others hate them for it. As a result, sales for Abercrombie have been climbing in the past few years, and it remains one of the leading retailers out there.

  • Comparing Apples to PCs. PC users think of Apples as those "other" computers used only by those artsy types. Apple fans are proud to be called artsy types, and they embrace the brand as their ambassador. Their fans appreciate design (many are designers themselves), and Apple's appreciation for aesthetically beautiful products speaks to them. PC users, with their serious spreadsheets and results-oriented PowerPoint presentations, wouldn't dare touch something so whimsical. The result is a point of contention (i.e., definition) between the right-brained artists of the world and the left-brained businessmen. As long as the values of these two societal groups conflict, both brands will succeed.

  • Starbucks. The granola-munching, anti-establishment hippie guy boycotts them. He feels Starbucks is a monopoly ready to put every mom-and-pop coffee shop through the coffee grinder. So how can this brand put a store on every corner and keep them all packed? Because the corporate suit guy likes the Starbucks mystique, the music, the décor and the convenience and consistency of a solid product. He sees Starbucks' domination as a result of what he learned in business school, a quality product leading the evolutionary market chain. (And, he probably doesn't care much for the hippie guy, so he loves to see his irritation as he orders his non-fat latte.) Starbucks has such a strong brand presence that it has literally become a political battleground. But the company itself emerges not with battle wounds but industry domination.

Get a Life

The biggest brands out there appeal to a lifestyle—not out of shallow pandering to a niche but by remaining true to their identity in the face of negative response. But to appeal to a lifestyle, a brand has to have just that—a life. A brand trying to appeal to everyone isn't a brand at all, just a watered-down commodity. And a commodity never attracts a raving fan—it attracts indifference. In a crowded marketplace, indifference will kill you.

So don't fear the hate. Embrace it. Maybe in your next brainstorming meeting, don't ask how can you appeal to X. Ask how you can annoy the hell out of Y.

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Rick Nobles is president of Two West Inc. Reach him at rickn@twowest.com.