Consumers today do not want to be sold to. If a brand subjects them to endless sales pitches, they will very quickly switch off, says the author of a new book The Social Brand.
“People don’t seek out marketing messages – they have to endure them. Old-fashioned marketing is a form of taking, but in this social era the only way to build a relationship between your brand and the people you care about is to give them something truly worthwhile that they will seek out and share with others,” the writer says.
The author – a marketing professional who has remained anonymous – explores the giving and taking concept further with the idea of a ‘brand bank account’, which businesses need to balance by making deposits to genuinely add value for consumers, as well making withdrawals.
Withdrawals from the brand bank account include the product price as well as marketing or advertising that disrupts what people are doing. Deposits include the product itself, plus valuable concepts such as engaging content or great events.
In a country where most people do not care if 73 per cent of brands that exist today disappear tomorrow, according to Havas Media’s Meaningful Brand Index, how can marketers ensure their products and services have a balanced account?
Rather than ‘taking’ from consumers and asking questions such as ‘how can we make sure people will do something for us like think of us, like us, try us or buy from us’, the book suggests brands should instead be asking ‘how can we make sure that we do something for the people who (will potentially) buy our product or service?’.
Examples of deposits include Procter & Gamble’s #LikeAGirl campaign for sanitary brand Always, which aims to give girls more confidence as they hit puberty (see below) and Unilever’s Domestos Toilet Academy programme, which aims to improve sanitation in the developing world.
Unilever’s ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s is also working on balancing its deposits.
“It’s not enough to make a great ice cream, do well economically and just have a social mission. They all have to work together; we call it ‘linked prosperity’,” says brand manager Kerry Thorpe.
Each year, Ben & Jerry’s hosts ‘free cone day’ to commemorate the day the business launched in 1979. This year it was held in April and promoted its new Greek-style frozen yoghurt. The brand aims to tap into a market that saw sales grow by 15 per cent in the year to December 2013, according to IRI.
It also runs the ‘Caring Dairy’ programme, which aims to improve the quality of life for farmers and the welfare of their cows, as well as making sure they get a fair premium for milk.
One of the important deposits in a brand’s bank account is the idea of a mission or purpose that goes beyond simply selling products to people.
Ben & Jerry’s has been very vocal about its stance on same-sex marriage, for example, and although there may not be an obvious link between ice cream and civil partnerships, Thorpe says it comes back to the core values of the business and speaking up for what it believes in.
“From the beginning, the founders wanted to be fair to the people who work for them, the community and the planet. Supporting gay marriage goes back to our heritage and making sure that people are treated equally. It’s the same ethos of wanting to give everybody a fair slice of the pie,” she says.
Not everyone is in favour of same-sex marriage, so it was a risky move. Some people took to Facebook to voice their concerns, but Thorpe says fans were quick to shout down any negativity.
“Campaigns like that are going to divide but as a business we don’t shy away from things that might ruffle a few feathers. It’s a risk we’re willing to take if it feels true to our values,” she says.
In September, Ben & Jerry’s will kick off its annual global competition to celebrate young social entrepreneurs. Now in its third year, ‘Join Our Core’ is open to 18- to 34-year-olds who are using business for change.
However, brand deposits are not limited to good causes or corporate social responsibility, says The Social Brand. Gestures of goodwill that are aligned with a brand’s main reason for being can be equally well received.
Authenticity and a clear link between the brand and its mission is critical, the book suggests. Consumers will not always make the connection if a brand only donates money to charity. If the initiative is far removed from the core brand, it can also be difficult to make it seem genuine.
“People want to see businesses doing things that are true to their brand,” says Ann Marie O’Riordan, UK & Ireland head of consumer brands at Dulux owner AkzoNobel.
For the past three years Dulux has been donating paint to communities across the globe to help them transform run-down spaces, from the favelas in Brazil to schools and community centres in the UK. Since the project began, Dulux has donated 630,000 litres of paint and in 2013 it claims to have “added colour to the lives” of around 200,000 people.
Communities in the UK work differently to other parts of the world, says O’Riordan, so it is difficult to make an impression.
“The sense of community in UK towns is not as strong as other countries,” she says. “We would love to transform a town as part of the initiative as that would have a greater impact.”
Dulux is looking at the feasibility of working with a community from one street. The idea is in its infancy, but the focus is on Manchester.
Young people are savvier and need a richer experience to even consider a brand
O’Riordan admits that the initiative alone will not make much difference to consumers’ views of the company so it is important to integrate it into the brand’s wider marketing strategy. As a result, the ‘Let’s Colour’ theme runs throughout all aspects of the business.
“The fact we are physically demonstrating our products and it is imbedded in what we do is important,” she explains. “We don’t see it as an enabler to push somebody across to purchase but it definitely reinforces the brand in people’s minds and gets them to consider us. All the other marketing initiatives support our message and it is those that drive conversion to purchase.”
Dulux also sponsors the Colour Run, a series of five-kilometre running events during which participants are covered in coloured powder.
“The Colour Run is about reaching out to a new, younger audience that we have to engage with in a totally different way. It’s about educating them around the power of colour, so when they do start to consider the category we will be top of mind.”
Younger audiences who have grown up in the digital age expect brands to do more than push products and talk at them, she says, emphasising the importance of being a ‘giving’ brand.
“You have to engage them in a different way to audiences of 15 years ago. They are savvier, which is pushing marketers to think differently. Young people need a richer experience to even consider a brand. They have a higher threshold so you have to work harder to make sure they think your brand is worth considering,” she explains.
The role of marketing has fundamentally changed, says Allister Frost, a course director at the CIM. “Consumers don’t need marketers any more. Brands need to ask themselves if their customers actually need them in the sales cycle.”
Businesses must be helpful and participate when consumers need them, he said, speaking at Marketing Week Live last month. “Increasingly, our job is to create content and answer questions but it is also to be there for people when they need us. “They need to be accessible, participate and help with the conversation. That may sound airy-fairy but that is the truth.”
Is your brand’s bank account in credit?
In the old era of marketing, brands pushed out products to people that they then paid for. But in the social era – where businesses are more open to scrutiny by consumers on Twitter and Facebook – they must make buying a product or service more worthwhile, argues the author of the book The Social Brand.
The anonymous writer – a marketing professional – says that brands need to make deposits to consumers as well as withdrawals from them and these cover the product itself, the brand and its marketing. To make sure brands give rather than take, marketers should ask themselves:
What deposits, that offer true value to the people who are important to you [consumers], do you think your brand has made in the past year?
Is the product really new and unique? Does it deliver what you say it does?
Why do people need your brand? Don’t shy away from defining this as something higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than you think.
Does all of your marketing clearly build your most important product benefit? The product and brand should work together seamlessly.
Who are the most important influencers for your brand? Find them and treat them well.
How P&G is making Always a ‘giving’ brand
Sanitary brand Always recently launched its latest campaign ‘#LikeAGirl’. But it is not the usual creative aimed at tapping into the feminine hygiene market, projected by Smithers Apex to be worth nearly $25bn (£14.6bn) globally by 2018.
Instead, it focuses on how girls feel during puberty, with brand owner Procter and Gamble’s research suggesting more than half experience a drop in confidence.
It explores the concept of doing something ‘like a girl’ – a phrase associated with poor performance – via a video by documentary-maker Lauren Greenfield, which has 28 million views on YouTube since it launched two weeks ago. Older girls are asked to demonstrate running or throwing ‘like a girl’ and do so in a mocking way. But the 5 to 13 age group are fearless.
The author of The Social Brand says that the campaign’s mission – ‘celebrating being a girl’ is a powerful one, saying nearly all of its marketing activations have been ‘deposits’.