A decade ago, I was walking through Union Square in New York. The farmer's market was on, and the place was jammed with early adopters. Fortunately, I was wearing a Google shirt, a rarity at the time, a gift from a gig I had done for them.
Across the way, a woman shouted, "Google! Do you work for Google? I love Google! Google is my best friend..." as she waltzed through the crowd toward me.
How many brands get a reaction like that?
Let me posit for a moment that most people aren't capable of loving a brand, not if we define love as a timeless, permanent state of emotion, connection and devotion. I do think, though, that people have crushes on brands all the time. And a crush can get a brand really far.
The first element of a crush is magic. When a product or service does something so unexpected, so inexplicable that we are in awe of what just happened, it feels magical. It might be the mystery of how a 1969 air-cooled Porsche made someone feel when being driven for the first (or hundredth) time. Or, more recently, it might be the surge that comes from connections found, the sort that Facebook used to deliver to new users all the time.
Sometimes that magic is almost Jungian--the roar of the crowd, the smell of flowers on your wedding day, the look in a student's eyes when she hears she got into Princeton. Other times the magic is literally that, the magic of Arthur C. Clarke and any sufficiently advanced technology (the sort of magic that woman in Union Square felt in 2002).
Remember back to the first time you saw an iPhone or tasted a warm donut--these are leaps in experience that connect us to a feeling of wonder we don't often experience, one that (sadly) decays over time.
The second element? Generosity. When the wizard happily shares his potion, when the device or the service is affordable, sold for less than it's worth. Not necessarily free—Harley Davidson motorcycles were never free, but the magic of being accepted by a generous tribe was more than enough to overcome the price of entry.
In software, particularly online, generosity comes naturally. Not only does Google find you what you seek, not only does Twitter let you broadcast to your world, but they appear to do it at no charge at all. Magic and generous at the same time.
It's difficult for the day laborer, the replaceable freelancer, the commodity supplier to earn a crush, because they are cogs in the system... selling the expected, for a fair price. We complete our transaction with you and then move on, even steven.
The crush, in contrast, goes far beyond delivering what's expected. The crush builds value for both sides, delivering a quantum leap in the urgency of the interactions. Ask David Cassidy...
Here's where the famous, "don't be evil" mantra kicks in. When it was first uttered at Google, it meant, "don't be like Microsoft was." In particular it meant, "don't use the magic we're creating in one place to allow us to be ungenerous, and in particular, don't use our magic in one place to eliminate choice in others." When Microsoft used the hegemony of the Windows OS to force people to use IE, they were being 'evil'. They traded their magic and stopped being generous.
Crushes don't last forever. You need to keep adding magic and generosity.