The license plate frame on my car reads “Alumni” at the top and “University of St. Thomas” at the bottom. The metal looks a bit shabby, since it previously adorned at least two other cars, but the purple letters seem to be surviving. I’m proud to hold a couple of degrees from UST and own a fair number of items emblazoned with its name and logos. However, the limit of my brand loyalty falls short of a purple shield tattoo.
It’s fascinating how we manage loyalty to the brands in our lives. For instance, while I purchase and eat exclusively Skippy® Superchunk™ peanut butter, there are no t-shirts or other memorabilia in the house to affirm this bias. Further, this post represents the only public or private admission of this behavior. So, even though absolutely loyal to the brand in use, I am a pretty crappy customer on the referral side. My kids don’t even eat the stuff.
Even though we all have some unshakable brand affinities, other brand connections seem to be more chameleon-like. Personally, the colors change on the alumni front, depending on the company being kept. When chatting with undergrad friends, the Beaver hat figuratively comes out (Just making sure you don’t think I actually have a rodent for my head.). Most of the time, I’m a Tommy. Not a traditional Tommy perhaps, because the diplomas aren't undergrad, but a card carrying graduate school Tommy. It helps to believe in the quality of education here, but the affinity also contributes to defining me in the context of the business community, in the same way the Harley-Davidson eagle on my leather vest distinguishes me from a sport-bike rider. Not good or bad, just decidedly different.
My “biker” merchandise tends to stay in the closet until the bike comes out of the garage, to avoid being confused with those other brand affinity types – the wanna-be’s. You know, people like the guy in a Harley shirt I saw in Key West who couldn't balance the Vespa he was test riding. The wanna-be syndrome cuts across all demographics – think, the kids who do farm chores sporting urban chic brands. Again, there’s nothing wrong with these behaviors, in fact without our logo infused lifestyles, entire product genres might disappear. Whole shelves in your cupboards would be vacant without imprinted coffee mugs and travel containers.
So, embrace your brand affinities, even promote them, and if you are a UST alumna and catch me without purple on Tommy Tuesday, I owe you coffee. What do I get if I catch you?
Michael C. Porter, APR is director of the Master of Business Communication Program in the Opus College of Business.