Real Leaders

Three Key Strategies that Determine Whether Purposeful Brands Succeed or Fail

One could easily assume that by committing to a brand purpose that is meaningful to consumers’ lives, companies can readily win consumer attention, engagement and amplification. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, social media has given consumers unprecedented information, connectivity and reach empowering them to play a pivotal role in whether purposeful brands succeed or fail at all. That result turns on what strategies brands use to engage their consumers. The right strategies can unlock the true power of social media and that is to inspire all stakeholders to use their own social media channels to amplify a brand story. The wrong strategies, however, can incite consumers to use those same channels to condemn a brand publically. So, let’s examine the three key strategies brands must use to build a self-sustaining customer community and how to execute them correctly.

1. Celebrate customers not yourself: As self-evident as it may sound, it is absolutely critical that a brand shift its focus from being the celebrity of its customer community, to being its chief celebrant. Too often brands talk about their purpose in a self-directed way, failing to realize that the customer’s experience of this strategy is a self-serving, one-way conversation. So while a brand expects engagement and recognition for the dollars it contributes to a cause, for the hours its employees volunteer, or for its long philanthropic heritage, what they typically experience is silence because consumers are not interested in simply congratulating a brand that is talking about itself. Instead, a brand must focus its attention on the lives of those it is positively impacting, and celebrate the positive effect that it’s having on the lives of others. A great example of this is the #OneStitchCloser campaign by GAP in which employees mentored young entrepreneurs to start businesses that helped others in need and the brand created short films that celebrated those entrepreneurs.

2. Upgrade and reward engagement: A second key strategy for purposeful brands is to recognize and reward customer engagement. Just as too many brands fail to give customers a ‘call to action’ in the first place, many also fail to reward customers when they do engage or share content on behalf of a brand. That reward can be as simple as a thank you, a discount on an upcoming offer, or some form of social recognition that creates currency with customers’ peers. Failure to execute this strategy correctly can be very costly to a brand, as it means their marketing efforts remain a series of independent tactics that never ladder up to a larger resonance in the minds of consumers. Further, brands miss out on optimizing their media spends by not taking a meaningful percentage of customers with them as they move through their marketing calendar. Done correctly, however, this strategy of continually engaging, upgrading and rewarding can allow a brand to build momentum and create a self-sustaining customer community that takes on a life of its own.

3. Lead with your legacy: Even when brands are being purposeful, almost all make the fatal mistake of seeing their social impact as an end result of their profit focused business, rather than recognizing that their profit is increasingly being driven by their social impact. Given that the marketplace is now being defined by Millennial and Gen Z demographics that want brands to be socially responsible and are also intimately aware of the social crises that we face, brands must now shift from being companies with a mission to being missions with a company if they hope to engage and inspire these audiences.

Executed together, these strategies of making the customer the hero, scaling intimacy, and rewarding engagement ensure that a brand combines human dynamics and social technologies in ways that encourage its customer community to partner with them in building their business and social impact.

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