Marketers are now on the far side of the inflection point where pushing products people no longer want has been replaced by business models that engage people with offerings that inspire. Indeed the walls of corporate marketing dominance have come tumbling down, replaced by the powerful voice of the tribe expressed through Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and a growing host of social media sites driven by the newly empowered consumer.
For many marketers, these are fascinating and turbulent times indeed. We are now in a world where consumers have witnessed the bankruptcy of the largest automotive and financial brands, the disintegration of BP’s brand equity and reputation and the demise of Kodak. The days of brand arrogance towards consumers are at long last finally over.
Surely as a marketer you would agree the most fundamental and important element in branding is people. As marketers, you spend all your time, energy and money discovering ways to connect your brand with people. More than ever, the consumer landscape in which your brand lives or dies has become one gigantic slush pile. If you don’t make this connection, you’re brand will quickly fade into this abyss.
The New Rules
Consumers who yearn for authenticity and demand transparency are now writing the new rules for brand engagement. To play this new game, marketers will have to learn how to close the gap between their logical, metrics obsessed corporate cultures and the emotional world of consumers. Brand building is now, more than ever, about bridging this gap through rich emotional connection.
The driving force creating the direct link between consumers and brands is the web, whose dominance in global culture will soon eclipse traditional media.
Instead of the pitch, marketers must be invited to the conversation, or start a new one people care about. The leading brands understand this shift and focus their energies on what matters to people first, brands that don’t will be long gone.
Branded Communities People Care About
Leading brands are built around branded communities that people care about. The communication model holding these communities together is now firmly established on the social web. Leading brands have become a culture in their own right. The web sites of brand leaders are no longer the digital brochures they began as a few years ago, but have become social engines for real and highly valued interactions with consumers.
Astute, savvy marketers build their brand platforms around the emotional aspects of what really matters to people within the community. Most old school brands still fuss over methods to codify their sites and the visitors to it. Worse yet, old school brands behave in a manner that suggests they own the conversation and control the formed perceptions in people’s minds. Old school brands no longer have this power or influence.
The Bar Has Been Set Much Higher
The key to brand building in this brave new world is now centered in rich conversation, emotional engagement, and unique intimacy with consumers. This is what drives and inspires trust and differentiates the brand’s competitive advantage from its alternatives. Marketers can no longer pay lip service to this idea because the bar for real consumer engagement has been set much higher. The organizations behind winning brands are focused on fostering the following:
Building a culture whose purpose is social and doing good things for people.
A good example of this would be Weight Watchers. This is a dynamic $1.5 billion brand, $200 million of these revenues come from the web, making it one of the most successful and sophisticated social media destinations with over four million unique visitors. Members own the conversation there, not the brand. It’s designed and built as a community and it operates as one. It serves people in ways that are remarkable and worth talking about with friends.
Provide A Meaningful Product That Requires Emotional Engagement
Forward thinking brands like Apple, Patagonia, Target, Herman Miller, IKEA all have the marketing baked into the product. It’s not about fancy features and user benefits; it’s about emotional engagement pure and simple. The experience your product provides must go far beyond utility. People no longer seek products but emotional relationships.
Every Core Activity Is Based On Social Connections.
Marketing is over. Social engagement is the benchmark of sustained brand value. Every consumer touchpoint must be centered on fostering this two-way conversation. The word-of-mouth emotional engagement inherent in social media will be the driving force behind the development of new business models.
More importantly, brands will support new levels of transparency and connection that will make online commerce the most trusted model.
The social web is tearing down the walls of arrogant marketing communication faster than most marketers can adapt to the changing reality. This is as fundamental a shift in our cultural development and evolution as Gutenberg’s printing press was to people over half a millennium ago– but the difference is in the exponential speed in which technology and culture embrace each other.
For brands to make this emotional connection and turn it into competitive advantage, they must first build their communities from the inside out.
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