The idea behind being or becoming a demanding brand is pretty simple. You have a following; now use your influence to effect change in others. A pretty noble exercise, right? Most definitely. 2013 is the year in which companies will use their power to create awareness other than "the self." For brands, using influence to get followers to commit to an initiative is a powerful and immediate call-to-action.
The hurdle a business can easily run into is becoming too demanding or overstepping the boundaries between business and consumer (and in doing so, projecting an arrogant image of the company). Brands have to be mindful of how far they are able to push the loyalty of their followers.
So how do you know if your brand is in a position to make meaningful demands of its followers? How do you ensure your brand gets to that point? Here are three key elements to brand power in demanding action from consumers.
The first point is both the easiest and the hardest to remember. So what do we mean by transparency? Is it just letting the people out there know how well your business is doing or where you're spending your money? Is it just a matter of letting the general public know about any philanthropic endeavours? Well, yes and no.
Keeping consumers informed about company policy and spending habits might seem like a daunting prospect, but consider the benefits of a transparent fiscal and operational policy. When consumers empathize with your brand during the difficult times, share in your success when you're doing well, and see where you direct your charitable investments, it encourages others to do the same. Being a demanding brand doesn't have to mean that you literally tell your followers to do anything. By showing them what you're doing you can effect a change in consumer thinking.
The other side of this strategy involves more of a long-term approach. Yes, it's great to showcase your corporate social investments, but this should also ring true of your everyday operational decisions. You might ask: Well, who's going to care or even see what we decide internally on a daily basis? Your employees, of course. One of the most effective branding activities starts from within. Keeping staff informed of decisions and the "whys" and the "hows" gives them a sense of belonging, trust, and brand involvement. This seemingly insignificant activity has the potential to carry a genuine and heart-felt message from within the core of your operations to the world outside.
The end result of aiming for a transparent business culture is a public that understands and engages with a brand that exudes confidence in its own actions, subsequently inspiring confidence in those it means to connect with. If you want to come across as a cool brand, you have to let people outside as well as inside feel involved, or else you're just another blue chip telling them what to do.
Remember that movie "The House Bunny?" Granted it's not the most thought-provoking or inspiring cinematic release ever, but there's one thing I feel warrants reference relating to this next point. There's a moment when Anna Faris's character first encounters the painfully popular girls of a sorority on campus. The girls, so obviously callous, look her up and down. After dismissing her as nothing more than an inconvenience, but not wanting to seem outright rude, they tell her that it was "so nice to meet her, so nice."
How often have you been communicated to in a manner which seems genuinely understanding, yet after a few encounters just waters down to nothing more than corporate dismissal? Of course all businesses rely on communications departments with certain standardized methods and structures. The problem comes when the structures of action and communication lose the goal of value-added engagement with consumers and other affected parties.
Saying you're going to donate to a charity is great, and actually donating is even better. But what about follow up? One-off lump sums or large, forceful campaigns do a great deal of good, yet we see more good come from smaller, sustained operations that create progress with longevity. Take for instance the Samsung Hope for Children Foundation founded in 2002 and the Virgin Unite Group, a not-for-profit aimed at helping startups achieve their goals through mentorship and funding. Building relationships with affected or interested parties portrays your brand as a true investor of not only money, but also time and compassion. Demanding action from others requires you to have a credible image -- something that cannot be born of insincere actions or hollow endeavours.
Take a leaf out of the NGO book. Focused, sustained exposure on a small scale over a period of time builds familiarity, trust, and overall awareness. This gives you the "cool factor" as a brand, meaning that you get to call some pretty profound shots, instead of coming across as fake.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Not exactly what I had in mind here, but it's half a start to the third point. If you've got a winning formula, then there's no need to drastically change it. But how do you stay relevant by holding on to the same old thing in an industry as fast-changing as branding? Well, remember those consumers you've been carrying with you all this time? Those who stuck with you through thick and thin, through the trust you've built by being transparent and sincere? This is where they come into the fold.
Consumers are quick to pick up changes in brand strategies and direction, and even quicker to voice their opinions. Social media has given people the power of real-time communication with businesses and brands. Listen to what they have to say, feed off their advice, and incorporate this into your current strategy. Keeping your finger on the social pulse ensures that you're aware of the changes without sacrificing too much time in trying to keep up.
Keeping a consistent, clear yet flexible brand strategy enables you to instantly adapt to the organic environment you find yourself in, without sacrificing a hard-fought brand image.
Being a demanding brand demands that you take a look at how you've been managing yourself from conception to now. Take a good, long look at what you've accomplished, how you did it, and where you can improve. Demand action from your followers, but only if you believe in what you're asking them to do.
Gerhard Jacobs is a marketing copywriter and journalist for GraphicMail.
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