The rise of social-based platforms — YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Uber, etc. — and the resulting overflow of behavioral data is forcing brands to center marketing efforts around nurturing audience connections over product/service promotion to stay engaged with valuable customers. In our 24/7, informed, disperse digital environment, the audience is now essentially in control of branding through reviews, sharing and platform interactions, so businesses are adapting in a variety of new ways to stay relevant and foster customer growth.
Historically, brands have defined their specific product or service with limited depth of story or personal connection. Nike was athletic shoes/clothing, Coke was a cola, Ford was an American-made car and IBM was computers. Brands would build their walls around their physical product or service to protect their distinct offering and pushed out their unique value propositions to the most interested audience. Simple.
Brands then leveraged stories to weave in emotion and personal connections to show how their products/services would make you feel or what being a customer said about you as a person. Toms donating a pair of shoes for each they sell, Corona selling you the beach and Apple offering a higher-end digital experience show how stories and emotion can push products beyond their tangible value.
Branding for Engaged Social Audiences
In this audience-centric environment, the most aware brands are changing this traditional, linear brand direction, often knocking down their own core pillars or giving up creative control to offer their highest potential value to customers. Stories and emotion are still vital, but brands are now cross-selling, up-selling, expanding and adopting new ways/partners to stay constantly engaged with their highly informed, spoiled audience. Although the physical product or service is paramount to initially define a brand, established businesses are evolving past basic product defense and promotion to focus on new partnerships, offerings and opportunities that drive a more engaged connection within the scattered landscape.
Below are just a few examples of brands taking this approach and using it to its fullest potential.
Brands giving product design to influencers and the customer:
- Nike, Adidas and Vans give full design control to customers.
- Land Rover allows users to build their own SUV.
Brands expanding into new platforms:
- The New York Times is planning a TV show.
- Walmart is going deeper into digital sales
- BuzzFeed’s expansion with Tasty on Facebook.
Brands partnering to offer better customer experiences:
- Sam’s Club is partnering with Instacart.
- Kohl’s has a new plan involving groceries from Aldi.
- Apple is partnering with PayPal.
Brands expanding into new audiences:
- Nike is focusing on women’s shoes.
- Nutrisystem expanding with a multi-product strategy aimed at men.
Brands adopting new technologies to expand into new markets:
- Dyson is developing battery-powered vehicles.
- Harley Davidson is going electric.
- Amazon is buying home security and video doorbell company Ring.
Brands influencing institutional change to connect with customers:
- Companies are cutting ties to the National Rifle Association after the Parkland, FL school shooting.
- Investing company Blackstone asked for details on fund managers’ ownership in gun companies.
- Outdoor clothing company Patagonia is “leading the way in promoting long-term solutions to environmental problems.”
- Warren Buffett joining forces with Amazon and J.P. Morgan in a new healthcare venture.
- McDonald’s flipped its Golden Arches in honor of International Women’s Day.
Some of above would have never happened a few years ago without the rich insights marketers now receive from the windfall of detailed audience data. Businesses listening to their customers are changing in ways we could have never imagined. Nike giving up almost full design control to customers? An electric Harley Davidson motorcycle? Amazon buying a doorbell company or jumping into healthcare?
Brands are looking at all opportunities to stay connected with their highly-informed and distracted audience the social platform environment has created. Informed brands nimble enough to engage new technologies, platforms and even causes will develop a deeper, more trusted connection, while those branding with traditional methods of basic product promotion and trademark protection will be marginalized as their audience recreates their brand story without them.