Tim Halloran (MMR '94) loves a great brand. He grew up around one.
When Tim turned three, his dad opened a mall greeting card store in Titusville, Fla.
"A Hallmark store," Halloran smiles. "A great brand. And I grew up in a retail sales environment surrounded by memorable brands."
The constant early proximity to powerful brand names — along with some good educational preparation at the Terry College of Business — set Halloran on his life's work.
At 44, he heads Brand Illumination, an Atlanta-based brand consultancy. In a 20-year career, he has built, directed, and consulted with some of the world's most successful brands (Powerade, Dasani bottled water, Diet Coke) and supported top companies (Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble).
His new book, Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, Intimate Relationships with Consumers (Jossey-Bass) came out in February. It’s a love story.
"The goal of any marketer should be to foster a deep, committed, and emotionally connected relationship with a consumer base," Halloran says. "With some brands, we have wild, short-term flings. In other cases, we honestly fall in love with a brand … and we enter into a mutually beneficial relationship."
Halloran found professional and personal relationships at Terry in 1993-94.
"What Terry did for me in market research," he says, "was to balance the science part of it — the data and information — with the consumer side. I learned to ask, Who is the customer? What problem is a brand going to solve? Terry gave me good grounding in practical application of marketing."
Halloran brought real life experiences of his own to his Terry studies. Back in Titusville in 1986, his high school class had watched the space shuttle Challenger explode in the sky. Many Americans recall the iconic Y of white contrails after the disastrous launch. Halloran and his family experienced that first-hand, as well as the economic slump that followed curtailment of the shuttle program, and he grew familiar with community boom and bust cycles.
At the age of 10, he had tried a launch of his own after he and his dad made a trip to Atlanta. "We came to the AmericasMart," he remembers. "A very impressionable visit."
Halloran talked his dad into giving up a few square feet in the Hallmark store to sell sports paraphernalia. The lesson? Brand Romance 101: Stuff for Florida teams, Seminoles and Gators and Dolphins and Buccaneers, sold. Stuff for teams from Buffalo or Berkeley? Not so much.
After graduation from Titusville High School, Halloran went away to Washington and Lee, a small Virginia liberal arts college, graduating in 1991. He then worked at the college for two years as an admissions counselor, a valuable stint that taught him how to differentiate his school from others in order to woo prospective students and their parents.
He next went after his Master of Marketing Research degree, choosing Terry over North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia. He took nine months of coursework under standout instructors like Rich Fox, Mel Crask, and Thomas Leigh.
Halloran then went to work for the prestigious marketing research firm A.C. Nielsen, working on an account for The Coca-Cola Company. Coca-Cola hired him in 1995 and put him on a team responsible for branding and marketing its first non-carbonated product. Powerade became the official sports drink of the 1996 Summer Olympics, and the brand grew to be one of the most recognizable in the beverage world.
The pioneering entrepreneurial nature of the Powerade development broke new ground at Coke. Halloran moved to a new internal development, Dasani bottled water, another first for the Atlanta beverage giant. Again, the brand attained national prominence.
In 2005, Halloran started his own consultancy. Brand Illumination works with big names and small. The latter includes an organic baby food company, a coconut water brand, a healthy snack food made of popcorn — all "brands that are not detrimental," he says.
How did he happen onto the "romancing the brand" concept? Ten years ago, Halloran heard a woman in a focus group mention how she felt that Diet Coke was "like a boyfriend."
He fell in love with the idea. "A brand needs to do something emotional for a consumer," he says. "It should be so strong that a consumer would have a sense of genuine loss if the brand goes away. For a marketer, that’s utopia."