Will 2021 see a return to marketing as normal? Unlikely, according to the 17 marketers and business leaders who I recently spoke to. But there are ways to adapt during this prolonged period of turmoil...
Richard Rosen (pictured) links customer engagement to a brand’s genuine values.
I believe most of you will agree, we live in a new era of unprecedented customer empowerment. Any one person’s opinion—good or bad—can be shared with millions instantly. And, according to Forbes, 90% of us will boycott a firm if we learned of a company’s irresponsible business practices, and more than 55% have done so in the past 12 months (Mainwaring, 2013).
Let’s face it, the threats and opportunities of customer engagement have never been greater.
When 61% of Millienials are worried about our planet and feel personally responsible to make a difference (Mainwaring, 2013), it’s clear that companies that will have sustainable success are the ones that blend into the business model the quest for profits with social purpose. Simply put, your brand is more favourable in today’s business environment if it’s good for society and the planet.
So what does this mean for us as marketers?
It’s safe to say this adds a whole other layer to our brands’ messaging platforms. We now need to deliver an improved level of meaning behind the brand that includes authenticity, transparency and vision. Incorporating genuine values into the fibre of your brand will win the hearts and minds of the consumer. This strategy is proven to increase interaction rates leading to greater sales. It’s a far better strategy than merely appealing to their basic needs by delivering a product or service at par or better.
How exciting. The ultimate competitive advantage is right at our fingertips!
I am thoroughly convinced that getting customers’ attentions at this higher level and fulfilling a deeper meaning in their lives will spark an even greater connection with our brands. After all, our goal as marketers is to continue to drive a meaningful dialogue and ultimately garner long-lasting customer relationships.
Coca-Cola is an example of a brand struggling in this new landscape. For years, it succeeded by creating larger and larger soda sizes despite growing sentiment that sugary soft drinks were contributing to the obesity epidemic. Now they’re paying the price. Soft drink sales are falling and the company has become a corporate bogeyman akin to Walmart or McDonalds in the 2000s. Type ‘Coke’ into YouTube. The first video that pops up isn’t a Coke ad. It’s a video called, “What Will Happen If You Boil Coke?” Spoiler alert: it doesn’t turn into rainbows.
What would have happened if Coke had stood for higher values? For one thing, the decision to sell 128oz big gulps at 7-Eleven never would have been approved. Perhaps instead they would have gone smaller and emphasised Coke as a premium treat to be enjoyed occasionally, a strategy they are only now experimenting with (Bloomberg, 2014). In the world of new media, genuine values serve as a hedge against negative PR storms, a way to ensure your brand doesn’t become a pariah.
But if that’s the downside potential of forgoing genuine values, the upside potential for employing them is even greater. Ben & Jerry’s is a prime example. Since its founding, the company has allowed its values to guide its every decision. This has lead the company to vocally support everything from the local food movement to GMO labelling, to limits on campaign financing, to the Occupy Wallstreet movement. The company has taken a bold stand for genuine values, and as a result won a vibrant social media following and many engaged and trusting customers. On the surface, Coke and Ben & Jerry’s sell sugary treats, but the difference in their values has thrown them worlds apart. One is pointed to as a poster child of the health crisis, the other is a loved brand making a difference.
I am convinced that the better way to succeed in this new era is not only to spin the online and offline tools essential to marketing, but to take a stand for genuine values that tap into the higher purpose and potential of people, as Ben & Jerry’s did. Ultimately, today’s customer pays attention and falls in love with those companies that make them feel empowered.
This is one of the most dramatic and overarching shifts in marketing and advertising we will see in our lifetimes. I trust you to look forward to this new challenge.
Richard G Rosen is president and CEO of ROSEN Convergence Marketing, a certified B Corporation. As the originator and chief architect of Convergence Marketing, he consults with leading brands to improve their marketing campaigns through empathetic dialogue. His book, Convergence Marketing: Combining Brand and Direct for Unprecedented Profits, (Wiley & Sons), is a ‘how-to’ tool for marketing professionals. Rosen will be presenting a keynote at the annual DMA conference in San Diego with Rob Michalak, global director of social mission, Ben & Jerry’s, on Sunday October 26 at 2pm.
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