The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.
By Christina Faeh
“With technology today, companies are less in control of their brand,” – Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes.
Traditionally, companies pushed their brand message on the public with little to no feedback loop. Today, the rise of social media has given consumers more of a voice, empowering them to help shape a company’s brand and influence the buying patterns of others.
In the past, consumers looked to traditional print and television media to report any positive or negative press about companies. Today, however, companies must leverage the power of consumers’ word of mouth communication to help build their brand. People are more inclined to buy a product or service if their friends or others in their ‘network’ give rave recommendations or positive assessments. In contrast, people quickly circulate a negative experience or reaction to a company or product, potentially tainting the brand image indirectly with others at a much faster pace than in the past. With social media, control of a brand’s reputation now lies in the hands of consumers.
Method Products and TOMS Shoes are great examples of companies empowering their consumers to be their marketing voice. Method has promoted a group of advocates who are more than just customers; they are evangelists for the brand. They share Method’s mission “to clean up the world,” by enthusiastically using Method’s cleaning products. These loyal customers engage the company to push for innovation and find others to share Method’s message. The advocates in fact become the face and voice of Method, more than any traditional marketing campaign could possibly achieve.
TOMS doesn’t have a significant marketing budget. Instead, the company relies on cultivating a community of consumers who believe in the value the company creates philanthropically and who eagerly want to champion the TOMS brand. These advocates are given a platform to share their TOMS story, host a TOMS customizing party or even post pictures of themselves with TOMS. There is indeed a social cause that they are promoting, but they have created ‘hype’ by cultivating a social community which then engages others who also want to do good.
Given the advantages associated with building a community of brand champions, an organization or company keen on sustainability can consider the following steps:
- IDENTIFY the company mission or values that consumers can share. Providing inspiration or a vision for the company’s target audience can enable them to become followers and swear by the brand.
- REACH OUT to established communities or online social networks that share the values of the brand. For example, if the company sells organic baby food, then engage a network of mothers who are health conscious.
- EMPOWER champions with the tools and resources to spread the brand’s value and voice that they share, connect with and live by.
- NOURISH the company’s champion community through engagement and sharing. When launching a new product, ensure the champions get an early release or have the ability to test and provide feedback. When starting a new campaign, determine how the company might include the champions as part of the campaign voice.
Ultimately, loyal customers want to have a connection with the brand or company. This connection is established through shared values and flourishes through the experiences they have with the product or service. Rather than only pushing a predetermined message, companies should cultivate and engage advocates who can champion the brand to others and provide instant feedback to companies.