By Kate Olsen
It’s a buyer’s market – and not just in real estate. Given the current consumer engagement climate – one marked by always-on hyper-connectivity, fragmented online communities of niche groups, and easy content filtering options – the buyer (customer) is now in control of your brand identity. Forbes columnist Rawn Shah recently interviewed CRM guru Mark Tamis on this new ‘Stakeholder-Focus Brand Era”. The full interview is worth a read, but I’ve distilled the key messages for cause marketers below.
What does Mark Tamis mean by ‘Stakeholder Focus Brand Era’?
He means that your brand value is co-created with your consumers (and other stakeholders) in a ‘continuous, social, and highly dynamic interactive process’. Brand value is a function of a collective experience with the brand among all stakeholders, not just an individual’s experience with a brand (be it as meeting a functional need or representing an aspect of the individual’s public persona). In sum, brand value is greater than the sum of its parts.
Example: An iPhone is just a phone, but the brand value is enhanced by the iPhone owner’s connection to a community of iPhone users. It’s a collective status symbol that represents more than just Apple’s brand ethos because of how iPhone users translate the brand as a social object.
Brand is now truly separate from product. This is an important distinction for cause marketers.
Branding used to serve to differentiate products and represent a competitive positioning. Think of all those marketing campaigns pitting Coke against Pepsi. Now, you are more likely to see Coke brand messages about ‘Open Happiness’ to promote a more social, experiential and aspirational brand identity that relies a lot of how consumers define happiness themselves. Through social media and mobile apps, consumers can join a happiness community that reinforces the brand through personal interpretations of happiness and social sharing of happy messages. The brand has become about a lot more than the taste of the cola.
Cause marketing is ideally suited to help brands co-create a brand identity with consumers.
Now that brands have become about much more than just a product experience (although I’d argue that timeless brands have always existed in this realm), marketers are looking for ways to cultivate a relationship with consumers. Relationships are about emotional connections and conversation. A cause marketing program is a meaningful way to inspire that emotional connection and conversation.
But you can’t just add a cause to your promotional materials and call it a day. Cause marketing only enhances your Stakeholder Focus Brand if the cause becomes part of the brand identity. What does your brand stand for? Chances are your brand marketing experts have created a persona for your brand complete with emotional attributes. Take those emotional attributes and relate them to what your consumers care about. Using the Coke example, if your brand attribute is happy, then your cause partnership should center on making a positive difference in others’ lives – however you define that with your consumer audience in mind.
Here are three rules of thumb to help guide your brand co-creation through cause:
1. Authentic cause partnership – the brand and cause have to make sense together in the minds of consumers
2. Compelling call to action to foster participation and get conversation started
3. Relevant social sharing to keep the conversation going and communicate impact results
Image Credit: Coca-Cola ‘Open Happiness’ Press Kit