11 Sep The Humanization of Brands
The increased influence of the millennial generation has led to changes in the way companies brand themselves. Old staples such as low price, availability and ad exposure are becoming less successful. Companies that have embraced social consciousness are doing the best in this changing climate. This young generation treats companies more like humans than corporate entities. Through this lens, they give companies human traits such as friendly, generous, thoughtful or greedy.
Millennials are looking for companies that have established reputations for being philanthropic, sustainable, customer friendly and authentic. So important these traits have become, that this group will even pay more and sacrifice convenience to support such companies. Why is this so relevant to a brand’s future? The millennial generation is the largest in history and in the age bracket where consumership peaks. It’s not hyperbole to say that missing out on their business could ruin a company in the long term.
“90% of millennials would make the switch to a brand if it was associated with a positive cause.”
Over the next few weeks, we’ll examine some companies that are doing a great job connecting to consumers through their brand’s social image. We’ll begin by taking a broader look at the branding strategies that are working.
Connecting to a Cause
Connecting to a cause sounds like a great idea, but at what expense? Well, at no expense really. Connecting to a cause is a great way to simultaneously connect to the millennial generation. One survey by Cone Communications showed that 90% of millennials would make the switch to a brand if it was associated with a positive cause. That is a huge number of potential consumers to be gained. The same study also delved into just how far this generation is willing to go for cause connected brands. The majority were willing to pay more for philanthropic brands and even take pay cuts to work for these companies. Seems pretty simple, but giving back to the world alone won’t always do the trick. Companies still need to make sure they are reaching their target audience; in the next section, we’ll look at how brands can convey their message.
“Millennials are looking for interaction with brands that provide value to them; on their own terms.”
Conveying Brand Message
Goodwill alone won’t win a brand the millennial market. As profiled by Fast Company, Newman’s Own has struggled to catch on with this generation. This reality is difficult to fathom, because at first glance Newman’s Own looks like it was invented specifically to target Millennials. With 100% of its profits going to charity, it is all about giving back. The company’s research showed that the younger generation does not recognize Paul Newman and as a byproduct, they don’t know much about the company or its charitable legacy. Based on these findings the company has adjusted its marketing strategy to reach out to the younger generation. They have altered their labels to put less emphasis on Newman and more on their charitable contributions. The company is also working to create a larger social media presence to reach a greater audience.
As the first generation to grow up in a world dominated by computers and software it is not surprising that the millennial generation accesses information primarily through social media. As Newman’s Own has realized, brands need to have a presence on social media. It will be interesting to see if their new approach helps them reach the millennial market.
Providing Value to Consumers
Between social media platforms, smartphones and computer access the millennial generation is accustomed to being bombarded with an abundance of annoying and irrelevant information. Because of this, they have become jaded towards traditional marketing practices. A large percentage of media is now consumed through streaming rather than tv or radio. When a company’s commercial interrupts a viewers streaming experience it is seen as intrusive. By using traditional outbound marketing techniques a negative impression of advertisements is created in this generation. Millennials are looking for interaction with brands that provide value to them; on their own terms.
The solution… Inbound marketing. A less intrusive way to bring people to your brand. This involves creating content (videos, podcasts, articles, pictures, etc) that people want to consume and share. With the advent of social media, this task has become easier than ever before. The right posts will lead consumers to the brand organically. When a consumer enjoys the content there is then a motivation for them to share it with others. Content sharing is a prevalent form of social interaction among millennials and is catching on with older generations as well. When a brand creates content that consumers find useful the association with that brand is more positive. This even gives the consumer a small feeling of ownership when they share it with others.
“…today’s consumers are willing to pay more for products that they feel good about.”
Making Consumers Brand Advocates
Content sharing is a good place to transition into how some companies are allowing consumers to play the role of partners in brand building. There are many advantages to using user-generated content to fuel your brand identity. One company that has perfected the art of allowing user-generated content to develop their brand is GoPro. What better way to show potential consumers the quality of their camera than to images of stunning landscapes and adrenaline pumping videos from actual users? The same strategy has been employed by Apple in their iPhone campaign to show images taken with their flagship phone’s camera.
Many people will also point to the price tag of this approach as a major perk. However, while the minimal overhead is a bonus it isn’t the biggest benefit. We mentioned earlier that today’s consumers are willing to pay more for products that they feel good about. This is where a brand’s greatest asset comes into play… the trust factor. Consumers are more likely to trust content that was created by people outside of the company. Furthermore, by allowing consumers to become brand advocates you create loyalty. Reaching new audiences while locking in loyalty from current consumers is a win-win for any brand.
“While honesty is essentially a human trait, that is the lens that consumers look at companies through now.”
We’ve touched on consumer trust briefly – this is the last major piece of establishing a connection with the current generation of consumers. What does brand transparency look like? If your company is to be viewed as transparent to the public’s eyes – they should be revealing in their beliefs, about their product, and about their production.
Transparency includes allowing negative reviews to be posted about your product and taking the time to address the complaints. This shows consumers that the company is willing to listen and always striving to improve. Similar to a person, the way a company handles negativity can say a lot about its values and can have a lasting effect on its image.
Authenticity is another piece people consider when evaluating how honest a brand is. If a company is established on a set of beliefs it needs to show how invested it is to these beliefs through its actions. Patagonia, a company that we will cover in more detail later is a model of authenticity. Going as far as filing a lawsuit against President Trump this year because of policy that went against their core values.
While honesty is essentially a human trait, that is the lens through which consumers look at companies now. It helps to establish respect and connection with the companies that people are buying their products. Similar to a business owned by a family member, consumers are willing to sacrifice a little bit to support brands that they connect with.