2020 is proving to be a year of heightened awareness, change, and for lack of better words to describe the significant shake up and shake down brought about by the enormous effects of one magnanimous event after another, immense disruption. Never before in the 21st century have consumer product brands truly been forced to find alternate ways to get their goods and services in front of their consumers. And in the midst of companies scrambling to rework key areas of their business model, consumers have put them on notice that it’s no longer enough for their company to do good, but to be good, be real and be publicly accountable in order to get their patronage.
There’s a plethora of lessons for brands to learn during these extraordinary times. Unfortunately, many companies are spending lots of time being reactionary and surviving when all along they should have devoted their efforts and energy toward enduring. Survival implies working with whatever you’ve got and doing whatever it takes to tackle the complications being thrown at you, whereas endurance connotes running the race, being in it for the long-term, preparing for and overcoming obstacles and remaining focused and faithful when all others have fallen to the wayside. Being a brand that endures requires humility, listening, intentionality and purpose. Here’s what that looks like in a company’s business model and in their day to day.
- Purpose Drives the Business
Peter Drucker famously wrote in The Practice of Management that the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer. While that is minimally true, I think Ducktape Marketing’s, Josh Jantsch’s says it better by noting that the purpose of a business is to create and keep purpose. Consumers want to believe that businesses have somewhat of a higher calling and exist for more than just taking their money. To quote Jantsch, “People commit to companies, products and stories that are built on and positioned with a simple, easy to communicate purpose – we commit to things we believe in and companies that get that make their entire marketing about purpose instead of product.” Consumers demand for businesses to demonstrate humanity and transparency, and to capture their hearts and imaginations through even the most simplistic concepts, like community, inclusion, respect and trust. Brands must exist with intentionality and think, “us” vs. “me.”
- Demonstrate Consistent Authenticity
The days of fluff are over! Heidi Palermo of Adweek recently wrote, “With intention, comes an increased need for transparency and accountability.” Consumers can see through companies that only want their money and aren’t invested in issues that matter. On the inside, employees are demanding a work culture that lives out its purpose in ways that are highly visible, tangible, inclusive and evident in the way its leaders lead. Authenticity and transparency can no longer be campaign driven. They should be interwoven into the fabric of the company’s culture, mission and vision, and communicated so that consumers and employees can easily understand and articulate who the company is and what it stands for. Markstein Mid-Atlantic president, Sheila McLean is quoted, “When it comes to social responsibility, consumers are looking for companies to show them – not just tell them – what they’re doing,” Brands have to listen and understand their consumers’ values. Without doing so, they cannot effectively chart and navigate a social responsibility course.
- Create and Sustain a Meaningful Internal Culture
When organizations think about brand building, most typically consider the end user, the competition and shareholders. But what about their most valued stakeholders…their employees? Brands should reflect their company’s culture. If you follow the trail of a broken brand the breadcrumbs likely lead back to a feeble company culture. Forbes contributor, Liz Ryan writes, “A progressive culture is one where the culture is deemed worthy of attention all the time. The company recognizes and celebrates the fact that its employees make the company great, so-so or terrible, as the case may be.” Culture and employee advocacy are often overlooked or underexplored marketing tools. When employees feel valued and proud of the contributions they make to their company they become more engaged, publicly communicate trust in the company, feel as though they’ve got skin in the game, and results in them acting as partners and brand ambassadors. It’s also important to note that companies should be mindful of their employees’ mental wellness and emotional intelligence. Providing adequate support demonstrates empathy and concern, helps reduce stress and contributes to a healthier work environment.
- Trust Marketing
Marketing’s role in brand-focused companies is an article all by itself. The roads that end at HR, I.T., Product Development, Sales or Operations, should originate from marketing and brand strategy. Marketing should be the driving force that helps the company navigate consumer-centricity, and consumer-centricity should be actualized across every area of the organization. Collaborations with Marketing should also address and create emerging opportunities that help solve more consumer needs. There are countless brands with incredible potential but are stagnated because of misalignment between other areas of the C-Suite and Marketing.
- Consider Brand Reputation Over Short-term Sales
Brand building involves time and intentionality. So how does this work when the company just wants to sell more stuff? Of course, brands have to sell. But without a solid brand reputation, there’s no longevity, advocacy is weakened, and consumers will be easily swayed by the newest shiny thing that comes along. It’s the age-old debate between Sales and Marketing that won’t get resolved here. However, brand building and sales must work hand-in-hand. The takeaway is that brands can’t exist without a long-term focus. Otherwise, it’s impossible to endure (and dare I say, survive).
- Explore Unique Possibilities
The same old, same old just won’t do anymore. As generations of consumers come and go, an enduring brand finds a way to evolve, while maintaining all the elements of those lasting traits that consumers of all ages love about them. It’s ok to think outside the box. From unique, non-traditional partnerships (cross branding with the competition or open collaboration platforms) to brands becoming their own media company (evolve & enable internal communication to become a P.R. and media machine), there are limitless opportunities to take a brand to the next level, while remaining authentically true to itself.
A brand should never get too comfortable and it should always stretch itself by consistently checking its values pulse, becoming nimble enough to pivot when needed, meeting their audience where they are, starting conversations (and not be afraid of the difficult ones), and always maintaining a distinctive and clearly communicated point of differentiation. Synergy and harmony between consumers, shareholders and stakeholders are key indicators that a brand is on the path of endurance.
This article first appeared in marketingmagnified.com