If you hear the word romance, your first thought is probably of something that resembles a Valentine's Day ad--candlelit dinners, loving looks, long-stem roses, etc. But romance has another, bigger definition: that which is apart from and far grander than the daily grind. "A quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life," as one dictionary puts it.
It's a feeling that, in our data-saturated age where oversharing is the rule, is increasingly hard to come by, according to Tim Leberecht, author of The Business Romantic. Could your brand score more customers by serving up some romance, he asks in a thought-provoking recent Medium post.
Less sharing, more mystery?
Marketing fashion has always swung between a focus on "art" and "science," Leberecht writes in the long post. At the moment, data dominates as brands aim to use a slew of information to target and stay in constant conversation with customers. But the laws of economics tell us that when something is ubiquitous, it's also less valuable. What is rare these days? Real romance.
"We're slowly beginning to realize what we are losing in all that incessant chatter, with corporate conversationalists on either end. When everything that's said is recorded and exploited, when everything's explicit, rehashed, and hash-tagged, we lose a sense of aura, exclusivity, and elation. When everything is predictable and automated, we abandon the thrill of strangeness ... of unfamiliar experiences that have the potential to disrupt our daily lives and grant them an awesome shock of meaning," he writes.
This unmet need for the strange and moving is an opportunity for marketers and entrepreneurs who can deliver that jolt of emotion. "We love brands that offer us unexpected beauty and friction. We look for rebels who interrupt our routines and offer us not just purpose and personalization, but a heavy dose of punch-drunk love. We want experiences that are unique and precious; experiences that can't be scaled and must not be optimized either. In other words, we want romance," Leberecht insists.
Who's wooing customers with romance?
Who's doing this well? Leberecht cites some established brands, like Tesla, Red Bull with its Stratos Jump, and Etsy, which "has smartly associated itself with the maker movement and prides itself with values-based trade in keeping with heightened social consciousness."
But small companies like Prime Produce and Secret Cinema are the real champions here, he argues. "Younger, less established startup brands are even more radical in their activism," Leberecht writes. "Purpose and social impact are augmented by a romantic concept of doing business, not just in the sense of the inherently romantic experience of being an entrepreneur, but in the quest to create more romantic capital for society overall. Striving to achieve a fundamental redefinition of what it means to be a company."
These businesses are good at creating experiences for their customers that "restore doubt and friction in a world of total knowledge and seamlessness, and disarm us with moments of unexpected awe. They want to be wise and passionate instead of smart and know-it-all."
Could your business get any mileage by joining them in embracing romance?