Sunday, October 25, 2009
As further evidence that brands are becoming social movements, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that NBC plans to produce more programming that promotes a specific cause.
Shows like “The Biggest Loser” that espouse social causes have become the lone bright spot in NBC’s otherwise struggling portfolio. Their success is not surprising -- there’s high demand for social meaning today, and we’re looking for it in our purchases, our jobs, and now our entertainment.
Our growing fascination with these shows is another indication that social causes now play an important role in the makeup of Americans’ identities. What you believe in is becoming as important as what you drive in terms of showing others who you are, and brands are now trying to foster relationships in that way.
In fact, growing their viewer base was not actually NBC’s primary motive. Instead, they hypothesized that socially-charged programming would help advertisers connect with consumers on a deeper level. Today, media that work to form an emotional bond between brand and consumer (rather than just providing a forum) command higher profit margins and have thus become the Holy Grail of ad sales.
This trend will only make brands look more like social movements, and will put an even higher premium on having intrinsic social meaning for your brand (or at least a social agenda).
This may or may not be good news for nonprofits. Certainly, the growing importance of social issues in our lives is positive, however this also illustrates the encroachment of consumer brands on the business of nonprofits. Companies selling widgets are building brands the way NPO’s ought to be: using causes as a rallying cry for a loyal brand culture. The organizations that actually know how to “do good” need to seize this opportunity.
If NPO’s don’t build strong, movement-like brands, Americans’ awareness and understanding of what they do could become diminished in favor of for-profit models of involvement.
The opportunity may be found in forming partnerships with the media companies. In order for networks like NBC to retain credibility with consumers as their cause-related programming becomes mainstream, they’ll most likely need to partner with nonprofits that already have brand equity with that particular cause. A partnership of this sort entrenches a nonprofit within the program long before any advertisers get involved, plus the media company gets kudos for getting involved with a nonprofit.
Monday, October 5, 2009
This week’s post was inspired by Dan and Chip Heath’s “Made To Stick” column in this month’s Fast Company. The Heath brothers are calling for “an arms race of goodness -- a generation of companies that compete on real emotion rather than stick-on sentiments.”
The column covers an issue in branding that has long been a topic of discontent for me. Creating an emotional bond with customers is not a new idea – Palmolive was doing it in 1921 when they asked housewives “would your husband marry you again?” And yet, for the majority of our dynamic consumer landscape, the approach to branding hasn’t changed in a century.
We’re still trying to attach product attributes to random emotions without any substance behind it. Is there any reason to believe Calvin Klein cologne makes women lose their inhibitions? Is there any reason to believe Citizen watches make you “unstoppable?” Is there any reason to believe Coors Light “tastes colder” and is thus more refreshing than other beers? The answer of course is no – and consumers are paying less and less attention as a result.
Back in the day, Palmolive actually struck a chord with women because no other dish soaps were claiming that they softened your hands. But today, in every sector, there’s at least 3 competitors making the same claim. Owning a product attribute is almost impossible now, but that hasn’t stopped marketers from trying.
So how do we create an emotional bond now? How about actually meaning what we say? How about brands walk the walk for once? If you’re the cereal brand that gives kids the energy they need to learn at school then start a campaign for in-school nutrition or to stop the cutting of phys-ed programs. If you’re the jewelry brand that empowers women to take what they want in life, then do a campaign about your program to educate women in developing countries.
To create a social movement around your brand, “meaning it” is critical. We’ve already discussed Gen-Y’s desire to align with brands with built-in social meaning, and as word-of-mouth becomes marketing’s gold standard, only brands that give people something real to talk about will be heard.
Some brands are catching on: Toms Shoes for example has “doing good” built into their business model by donating a pair of shoes to kids in developing countries for every pair they sell. Consumer brands are now encroaching on the business of non-profits in order to build their brands. Conversely, non-profits are “doing good,” but very few of them pay any attention branding. What if brands competed on how much good they do rather than how many GRP’s they run in prime-time?
The article mentions one last critical aspect of social movement marketing. Actually standing for something, makes employees engage with your brand. When you walk the walk, you define a strong, internal culture for your organization, which ultimately and inevitably leads to a strong, customer culture for your brand.