Building brands has changed in a big way. Once it was all about what a brand said: the promises in its advertising. More recently it was about access: websites that let customers and prospects come and interact when they wanted to. But now it’s about what might be called “marketing through relationships.”
I’ve talked about this in a number of presentations, mostly in an attempt to explain that social media is not about technology or platforms, but rather about how brands can create long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with their customers.
A couple of days ago, poking around on some of my favorite blogs, I came across a presentation on BBH Labs’ site that included another smart way to think about this.
In a recent presentation that a couple of its strategists gave to students at VCU, the skunk-workers suggested that if a brand focuses on behavior, conversation, innovation, and utility (among other noteworthy qualities) it might actually make friends. A pretty good idea given that friends listen, share, support, forgive, come back and maybe even stay loyal when someone else has a better price.
Some pretty successful big brands — Panera*, Zappos*, Apple, and American Express come to mind – along with plenty of smaller companies — Timbuk2, the messenger bag maker, and AJ Bombers, the Milwaukee burger joint, for example– have also demonstrated the value of this approach.
These companies do it through their physical environments, interactions in social media, products and innovations, even their content and advice. What they all have in common is this: the experiences they create, digitally and otherwise, are mutually beneficial. They give their community as much as they hope to get back in the form of sales and business: Panera with its community involvement; Zappos with constant engagement and its knack for delighting; Apple with its one-to-one classes; and AMEX with it’s customer service. (If you’ve ever tried contesting a charge or fee with CitiBank or Chase versus American Express, you know what I mean.)
Timbuk2 treats its customers with genuine appreciation, taking advantage of everything from its website to personal thank you notes. And AJ Bombers continues to set examples with its innovative use of social media.
Behavior – what these brands do, not what they say – results in their winning friends, at least in the loose sense of the word.
In the BBH Labs presentation, the assignment to VCU students goes on to ask for an eco-system — presumably based on insights and an understanding of how the community-to-be-engaged (I like that better than the term “target audience”) uses technology, media and content — along with propagation tactics for how the word will get spread.
This is yet another smart way to look at marketing. After all, if we’re trying to make friends, the last thing we need to do is blabber at them. Better to create a warm, welcoming, entertaining environment where they might want to come and hang out rather than an ad they’re likely to tune out. Heck, they might even buy something while they’re with us.
We all know this is the new way to market. Every agency and CMO is starting to think this way. Granted some are getting there faster than others. After all it takes a different kind of team, a revised approach to strategy, and willingness to throw out the old way of doing things.
But I think the BBH Labs approach offers a good place to start: attracting friends (rather than targeting an audience) and building an eco-system instead of crafting a message.
Is that what you’re brand is doing?
Photo by Haags Uitburo
* Panera and Zappos are clients of Mullen, the agency where I work.