Stop thinking like a marketer and let the value exchange guide you

Millennials “expect brands to live in the same world they live in, speak the same language about the same issues they care about, be humorous, or strike an emotional chord,” according to the Harvard Business Review. And it’s not just millennials – consumers aged between 18 and 34 – who feel that way. There is an increasing demand from all consumers for a genuine ‘value exchange’ between themselves and brands.


So what does a ‘value exchange’ mean? Take the recent Coca-Cola Christmas campaign ‘Magic Bow’. It is a simple, innovative and charming idea: a consumer is seen pulling the label on a Coke bottle, which transforms the label into a large bow. The bottle then becomes a present, making Coca-Cola instantly synonymous with Christmas.

With this campaign, Coca-Cola has created a value exchange with the consumer. The brand has subtly communicated its long-standing ‘happiness’ message and suggested itself as a suitable gift for Christmas. Meanwhile, the consumer has been surprised and entertained by the experience. All this without Coca-Cola overtly forcing the brand message.

In a similar festive fashion, the BBC chose to create online videos of its line-up of stars giving Christmas tips. Pop star and one of the judges on BBC One TV talent show The Voice was shown teaching viewers how to wrap (rather than rap) Christmas presents, while presenter Graham Norton gave advice on how to make mini Santas using strawberries and squirty cream.

The videos demonstrate the ‘value exchange’ in action. While the BBC showcased its diverse talent through branded content, viewers received something genuinely humorous, entertaining and shareable with their friends. 

Although these examples of captivating content certainly help brands build affinity, can marketers ensure that the exchange is even more meaningful? Can we go further and create not only products but marketing that is truly useful for consumers’ lives?

Unilever’s Flora brand has done just this. It has created Handy by Flora, a new web app that lets consumers control recipe videos on YouTube without having to touch their device. No more desperately trying to press pause with your elbow because your hands are covered in floury gunk. Instead, the tool uses the device’s camera to track your gestures. Waving right becomes ‘play’ and left is ‘pause’.

The tool also has a cookbook feature that stores all the URLs of your favourite videos and is peppered with hints and tips from Flora as well as branded recipes. These functions create seamless brand integration for Flora but, crucially, they also provide really useful tools for adventurous cooks.

On a larger scale, at Diageo, our sponsorship of the New Year’s Eve travel in London and Edinburgh helped more than 2.5 million people travel home safely from their celebrations free of charge. The value exchange is clear. We chose to invest in this sponsorship because it enables us to make our brands an integral part of people’s New Year experience; for the revellers, they got to enjoy something truly useful to them – free, safe travel home after a great night out.

The travel sponsorship was also accompanied by a responsible drinking campaign that ran across the Transport for London network. It featured a ‘grumpy gorilla’ and delivered a serious message about responsible drinking while aiming to raise a smile from travellers. Again, the value exchange meant we delivered a serious message that is important to us while also hopefully benefiting consumers with a message that was entertaining and not heavy-handed.

But back to those millennials. We already know that to reach these consumers, we have to create compelling content. To do that effectively, we have to stop thinking like marketers and be guided by the value exchange. We have to understand what our consumers value, not just our own brand values.

As brand owners, we need to be comfortable giving custodianship of our brands to consumers so they can use and share them as they wish. This allows us to tell our stories in more places, more often and through more channels. If we do this, we will become part of their world, more relevant and more remarkable.

Kathy Parker is senior vice president, marketing innovation at Diageo

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