But things have changed now that the whole world is connected digitally. When brands behave badly, we find out. When products suck, we ignore them. Consumers are in control and corporations are naked.
I've spent the last year asking CEOs, scientists, authors and industry insiders about the future of branding for a groundbreaking documentary called 'The Naked Company.' I'll be previewing this film for attendees at the upcoming iMedia Brand Summit, where I'll also share some of the key takeaways I've learned from talking to brands that get it. From those interviews I've also devised five key lessons to help brands, marketers and businesses be better, do better and truly connect with customers in this new and naked age.
1. Advertising can't fool us anymore.
Consumers have all the power these days because we've got social media, expert reviews and phone-sized supercomputers to tell us the facts in real-time. We know the truth now no matter what story marketers try to jam down our throats.
Yet, some brands still preach from the hilltop while consumers ignore ads and turn to unbiased sources of information. In America alone, we spend over $150 billion on advertising—more than three times any other country. That money may not be paying off. Peer recommendations are fundamentally more trusted than advertisements. Independent ratings and reviews can't be avoided. Even those that don't use Facebook and Twitter have reviews only inches from the 'add to cart' button. Even in retail stores, shoppers are armed with smartphones and apps like Good Guide that provide in-depth analysis of product quality. When I met with Alex Bogusky, Creative Director of the Decade, he mentioned this shift, saying, 'being a great company is the new brand, because there isn't going to be anything between you and the reality of that company.'
2. Out Yourself
It's better to expose yourself than to be exposed. Enter Patagonia with its Footprint Chronicles, which is a section of its web site where users can get the lowdown on the environmental impact of the products the company makes. For instance, the Pima Cotton Shirt is made in a factory that is a member of the Fair Labor Association and has a social responsibility department but does grow cotton in a water-stressed region. That's a tradeoff, but at least customers know the good and the bad. Patagonia's kimono-opening approach is a daring strategy for a brand, but it's the kind of strategy that's chock full of lessons for others. 'In this day and age of social media, you can't hide anything,' said Jill Dumain, Director of Environmental Strategy at Patagonia, during our chat for the film. 'If we put it out there, it turns a lot of confrontations into conversations.' Patagonia's financial performance since launching The Footprint Chronicles has never been stronger.
3. Use social responsibility as an advertising platform
For each pair of Tom's Shoes a customer buys, Tom's gives away a pair to a child in need. The company was founded on this mission and its entire brand experience is geared around it too. Go to Tom's Web site and you can read and share the story of the founding of Tom's on Amazon, Facebook, Delicious, Yammer and hundreds of other social channels. Or you can learn how to host a Tom's 'Style your shoe party' where you can style the blank canvasses of shoes the company will give to kids in need. You can also upload pictures, screen the Tom's documentary or register for the annual a 'Day Without Shoes' to support kids who go barefoot every day. These actions are how Tom's spreads its brand message because social responsibility has become its own ad medium. Pepsi knows this too and rather than spend $20 million a year on Superbowl ads, the company pours that money into Pepsi Refresh, a social responsibility initiative for community projects. That's because old ways of marketing no longer work, said Bonin Bough, senior global director of digital and Social Media at Pepsi, when we sat down to riff about the changes in our business. 'We have to break down this notion of advertising as a command and control paradigm,' he said. 'Here's what's crazy: it used to work for a hundred years. But in the last twenty years, everything has changed.'
4. Focus on The Moment Between the Moments
There's a saying about making every moment matter. But in marketing, you can often exceed
expectations by making the moment within the moment matter. Let's start with Apple. Not only do its machines and its stores rock, but Apple also figured out that one of the worst parts of shopping is waiting in line. The solution? Eliminate that crummy moment and create an enjoyable one — the moment when any store employee can check you out. You turn to one of the many Apple salespeople, and they check you out with their handheld register. It takes all of ten seconds and the receipt goes straight to your email inbox. The brain responds extremely strongly to these granular moments, said scientist Dr. A.K. Pradeep, President and CEO of neuromarketing firm Neurofocus, during our conversations. 'We find the brain's best enjoyment is the moments between the moments. Every touch point is a wonderful place to touch a brand. Every interaction is precious and is more meaningful than a 30 second ad,' he said. Similarly, Virgin America has refined small moments of the flying experience by placing orchids at its boarding kiosks, installing purple lighting on its planes, and letting you order food from your seatback when you're hungry. Those are the moments within the moments that can make flying better and make a brand beloved. As Virgin America CMO, Port Gale, said quite succinctly, 'advertising definitely can't bullsh*t people anymore.' That's why they focus on the moments between the moments to turn customers into evangelists who spread the brand message for the airline.
5. Happy Employees are Good for Business
During a visit through Zappos' corporate headquarters you might come across a dance party, a parade, an employee dressed in a bear costume or another one dispensing free hugs. The shoe company is all about happiness and that's not just a corporate line. Zappos truly aims to create a culture where employees enjoy work. Zappos even has a life coach on staff to help meet that goal. 'Let's not just say culture is important,' said the company's CEO Tony Hsieh when I sat down with him this summer. 'Let's make it's the number one priority of the company. If we get the culture right, then delivering great customer service will happen.' So will sales. The company surpassed $1 billion in sales in 2008, and it hit that milestone by spending very little on advertising. Those sales are driven by word of mouth and repeat business, which in turn is a result of a happy workplace. Notice how the Zappos philosophy isn't upselling customers, or shouting about its awesome shoes in thirty-second spots. Instead, Zappos has aimed to be a great brand from within because it knows happy employees lead to happy customers.
There are other great brands and lessons in the film which will be completed later this year. For those of you who will attend the upcoming iMedia Brand Summit, I look forward to seeing you and sharing a preview of the film.