Forty years after the first Earth Day, greater pressure is being applied to brands to address environmental problems along with the problems of dirty clothes, financial services, technology, and convenient, quick-serve meals.
Yes, more consumers hear the phrases "fuel-efficient," "organic,""energy-efficient," "natural," "green," and "sustainable" more these days, consumers are on to all that. They want brands to walk-the-talk, and "green" has become the cost-of-entry in many categories, making larger and larger contributions to brand engagement and loyalty.
Driving "Green" Growth
A review of category loyalty drivers in our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index shows that how consumers define "green" varies significantly from category-to-category. And as more people become more aware of the dangers of ignoring the environment, and as brands have actually sought to establish standards, the definitions and expectations applied to brands have evolved.
It's been announced that Tiger Woods will be sitting down in Florida tomorrow with "friends, colleagues and close associates," not, as some might think to make additional apologies for his off-the-course activities, but to launch a new, 2010 version of Tiger Woods.
Think of it as this year's Human Brand re-launch, a re-introduction into the marketplace of an actual human being who represents 100% of the values, imbued meaning, and differentiation in the category in which they compete. The operative phrase being in the category in which they compete. And make no mistake about it, no matter what you've read or heard about hotel bedrooms, the category in which Tiger's human brandness resounds is still golf.
But Human Brands – Tiger Woods IS still a Human Brand no matter what you think of his record for fidelity whether coasting along or under assault, do better in the milieu that represents their values and skills best. Closure and contrition is come to against a background that resonates with the Human Brand's skill set. Kitchens for Martha Stewart, construction sites (highest floor possible, please) for Mr. Trump. Places they can be themselves or, more accurately, be the brand they are. For Woods, the setting is a golf course.
The golf course was the one place (aside from sponsorship and promotional and advertising venues that showed Tiger playing golf) that Tiger captivated the world, until the world was captivated by the stories of how he cheated on his wife. Think of it as his outdoor rehab facility, very effective for refurbishing images and mending marketing fences.
Once upon a time people lived in a state of positive expectations. There were relatively few products, great demand and most products enjoyed high brand differentiation. This was circa 1960, when most marketing models in use today were developed, like the purchase funnel, which measures advertising effectiveness.
The world has since changed dramatically. And, despite the rise of digital and the economic downturn, most old marketing axioms are still operative, miring marketers in an approach designed for a bygone era.
Take the relationship between supply and demand – its reversed. Today demand is scarce, supply plentiful. Second, over the past half-century we have learned so much about how people engage with brands.
We now understand that people are not two-dimensional datum to be manipulated by coupons or the latest hot-button offer. Current anthropological, linguistic and neuro-scientific evidence demonstrates that humans attach to things (product, person or idea) through a process of identification that coalesces longings at the personal, social levels.
So Google’s potential withdrawal from China clearly allows them to play the moral high card and exhibit adherence to their brand values – epitomized by their motto “Do no evil.” Despite the significant business implications, they prioritized safeguarding the information and trust they’ve garnered from users around the world – and we applaud them for it.
But, as we all know Google’s footprint in the Chinese market was still nascent with local Chinese search brands like Baidu, Youku and Sogou established as the dominant players. Still with its proven tenacity and continuous innovation, Google would have undoubtedly expanded that footprint and still may.
Whatever the rationale, Google’s stance raises the bigger question – what will other global companies in the massive Chinese market be willing to sacrifice for the sake of business over brand value? At least 34 other technology companies including Adobe, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Symantec and Yahoo are all believed to have been targeted as well. We are still awaiting responses by most of these companies, who are looking into the allegations – although Microsoft, a common victim of global cyber-attacks, has stated that for now it’s still business as usual in China.
So has the brand gauntlet been thrown?
I am a huge advocate of innovation. Some of the most successful brands the world has witnessed are the result of innovation. Think Apple iPod or Toyota Prius or eBay or Amazon.com or even my hometown grocery chain, Wegmans. They have all experienced uncommon success based on innovation.
First, let’s define innovation. Innovation is the application of novelty to create value.
What leads to innovation? Here is my short list (based upon several experts’ extensive research in this area):
• A penchant for experimentation and action over analysis
o Wegmans has succeeded over the years by constantly testing new concepts in a few stores and then, if they are successful, integrating them throughout their other stores.
o Organizations need to play to win rather than play not to fail.
• The realization that in many industries, approximately 70% of innovations are developed by users, not the firm bringing the product to market (from research done by Professor Eric von Hippel at MIT)
o Harley-Davidson executives go on HOG Rallies with their customers taking notes and asking questions about accessories, bike modifications and other user-added features. They then debrief and act on what they discovered upon returning to their headquarters.