Ground Your Brand
Do your brand values come from a strategic decision, or an organic statement of who you are and what you do? More and more, social media is proving that it should be the latter. The slippery impression of authenticity has a huge impact on how your target market and customers think of you. That's why it's time to ground your brand.
An Authentic Buzzword
I was at the Financial Times Future of Marketing event in New York City yesterday, where I got to hear many brands and agencies talk about various aspects of the future and present of marketing.
Anyone who's been to a conference knows they're the places buzzwords hatch, grow up and breed. And the buzzword I heard most yesterday was "authenticity."
And the best articulation of it was the need to "ground your brand."
“Every company right now, the one takeaway is ‘ground your brand’," said Suzy Deering, CMO North America, eBay. “If you can’t stand for who you are; not change who you are but evolve who you are,” it’s going to show.”
(Note: I took these quotes live, so please forgive any slight discrepancies with other outlets.)
“I think we’ve absolutely bathed ourselves in complexity and acronyms for years," said Hannah Grove, EVP and CMO of Boston-based financial services holding company State Street. "At State Street, we’ve really tried to break down the acronyms and just communicate.”
“We have to force ourselves as marketers to come back to the human question," said Eric Reynolds, CMO, Clorox. This dictum forces Clorox to look at consumers not as consumers, but as people, which helps Reynolds and his team think of about what resonates with them as people.
How to Ground Your Brand
“Authenticity is a word people throw around that is very. Very hard to get right," said Carter Murray, CEO of FCB." And the thing about Social Media is you have to be true to who you are and what yo do, or you absolutely get eaten alive on social media.”
That's where the usual discussion of authenticity and grounding your brand diverge. The key is getting down to the values and beliefs that are core to who you are as a company, and lining behind them.
It’s always the same question: “What business are we in, and what do we do every single day that is important?,” said Murray.
Murray was presenting with Reynolds, and spoke about the many companies, following the lead of successful mission-driven organizations like Tom's Shoes, launch into their own missions. But those missions don't always resonate.
“I see people trying to invent meaning," said Reynolds, "and if we’re not careful, more and more consumers will say, 'Are those the values I really share? Are they just saying what they think I want them to say?'”
Clorox has it's own brand missions, but they are careful to make sure those grow organically from its brand. For example, Clorox has taken up eradication of germs and bacteria as a mission. To support that, Clorox sent bleach to West Africa to helps prevent spread of the disease.
“What I love about Clorox," said Murray, "is they provide the bleach to help fight Ebola. That’s something that makes sense to a normal person.”
To ground your brand, figure out what makes that kind of common sense for your brand to do.
Ear to the Ground
Understanding what makes your brand authentic isn't just an internal exercise. You need to understand what your target market expects you to be as well.
“The central verb for me in the marketing strategy is just listen," said Grove. "What technology has given us that we’ve never had before is to be able to listen to our audiences and hear where the white space is.”
But authenticity isn't just listening quietly, or waiting for your chance to interject into the white space. It about engaging target customers in a conversation they want to have.
“The reality is that we’ve gone from cathedral to marketplace" says Grove. "There is no more room for that top-down communications, you have to have that two-way dialog.” In that dialog, you have to have context. Understand the difference between starting a conversation you want to have, and a conversation you both want to have.
“We’re all humans" says Grove. "We don’t want to be marketed to. We want to be connected with in ways that are relevant and have context.”
Nowhere is this more evident than when a brand makes a mistake and starts to be roasted on social media. But brands that are authentic tend to get out of those situations more quickly and with less damage.
“As companies and as brands, we’re really more acting like humans than we’ve ever been," said Deering. "And humans make mistakes, and companies and brands are going to make mistakes. ... Consumers are forgiving if the response and the reaction are handled appropriately."
“We’re all humans," said Grove. "We don’t want to be marketed to. We want to be connected with in ways that are relevant and have context.”
If your brand values, missions and communications are coming from a focus group instead of your actual focus, it's time to take a fresh look at what your truth is from both your own internal point of view and that of your customers.
What should you stand for, if you're being honest? How does that match up to what you hear from your customers?
If you don't know, it's time to get your brand's head out of the clouds and feet back on the ground.