Growing Your Brand By Moving From Sell to Soul

November 2019

There was a time when our job as an agency was to help our clients create short term sales lifts through sales promotion, retail activation and incentive-based marketing. We had years of success building brands like Miller, Bacardi, Quiznos, Hallmark, Energizer and J&J at the point-of-sale.

Then social media happened. And with it came a shift in people’s expectations for brands. According to a 2018 study by Edelman, 65% of consumers now choose brands based on the company’s beliefs. That’s double compared to one year ago, and will only continue to grow exponentially. Why is this happening? Because Millennials and Gen Z share a desire to live a more purposeful existence, and they choose brands that share their values, and help contribute to their own individual brand identity. They are looking for partners, not products. They want more meaning in their lives, not more stuff. It’s a huge shift in consumption mentality, and the trend will only continue to gain momentum.

Values and beliefs can’t be manufactured in a campaign or brought to life with nothing more than a statement on a company website. Consumers seek access to the inner workings, practices and principles of the companies they buy from, thanks to social media, online reviews, employee testimonials and leadership news. For major brands, this information paints a picture of much more than product merits, but also the values of the company at large.

This poses a serious marketing challenge to major consumer brands who want to take advantage of this new dynamic, but don’t take the necessary steps to ensure their brand positioning and identity are reflective of the organization’s principles and practices. Tackling that challenge is New Honor Society’s specialty. We help brands behave more like people, so that their marketing becomes a demonstration of who they are inside and out, not just what they sell.

Think of it as a “Less Sell, More Soul” approach to growing your brand.

There are six shifts in perspective that can move a corporate or brand positioning and strategy from “Sell” to “Soul.” Each of these strategies can help a brand grow by connecting more authentically with audiences.

  1. From Targeting to Attracting

Between ethnographies, focus groups, surveys and analytics, many brands are better at knowing their consumers than knowing themselves. We have more data at our fingertips than ever before, and can slice, dice, segment and target audiences with more precision and more relevancy. You could say that all this data has led to a reality where brands now know their consumers better than they know themselves. Are consumers important? Of course they are. They love us or hate us, take us or leave us, make us or break us. Without consumers, there’d be no brands. The issue is this: Brands are beginning to use consumer data to dictate their marketing message, rather than their message being a reflection of who they truly are as brands.

Imagine you’re shopping at a clothing boutique with a friend. You try on a dress or a suit, and ask your friend what they think. They shake their head at outfit after outfit, until finally you get an approving nod. You wear the dress or suit and it doesn’t quite fit right, it doesn’t quite feel like “you,” but you got the response you wanted, so you wear it again and again. Every time a brand tailors creative to get the right response from a consumer, it degrades itself a little. When we let consumers decide who we are as a brand, trying to craft a message they’ll like, or associate ourselves with the right influencers, we are at the mercy of fleeting trends, fickle preferences and conflicting opinions.

Instead of targeting consumers with promises, persuasions and incentives, look for ways to make the brand the target. Think of it as brand attraction: the ability to create a community of likeminded consumers based on what the brand stands for, not just what it says.

This kind of attraction doesn’t start with the consumer, it starts with the brand’s soul, or purpose. Brands with soul ask themselves, “Why am I here?”, “What impact am I trying to make and why should anyone care?” They have the guts to be themselves, even if not everyone subscribes. They don’t promise and persuade, they inspire and empower. They don’t ask, “What do you want me to be?” They say, “Here’s who I am and what I’m about. Who’s with me?” That’s attractive.

Brand growth comes from being confident in your purpose and beliefs and attracting a loyal, likeminded following.

  1. From Consumer Insights to Cultural Consciousness

At a certain age, we start to understand that we are part of a larger universe. We become aware of what is happening in the world around us and have ideas on how we fit into it. Brands, on the other hand, tend to focus on their own category and competition, but stop short of the cultural context in which they exist.

Cultural insights can be the most powerful, helping brands connect on topics much larger than their own products’ features, and demonstrate the shared values and beliefs that matter to people.

Data can be leveraged to achieve these three key goals:

  • To understand human nature. Humans are more than their purchase and consumption patterns. The goal is to gain a holistic understanding of the audience, including the biases, beliefs and values that drive their thoughts and behaviors.
  • To uncover cultural insights. The most powerful insights don’t always come from the category, the competition or the consumer, rather the culture in which the brand and audience live. Cultural insights help define what the brand stands for – the greater impact the brand seeks to achieve beyond its products or services.
  • To grow Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand how the audience feels throughout their journey in order to demonstrate empathy. Rather than trying to change behavior or beliefs, we help brands relate to their audiences authentically and add value to their lives through marketing.Data can also help us optimize the level of Emotional Intelligence by telling us what is and isn’t resonating with audiences.

It is only when we bring data and humanity together that brands can create lasting relationships with audiences. Data science combined with human ethos can drive both short-term behavior change and long-term brand affinity. Our Strategic Analytics team utilizes Relative Value Modeling (RVM) plus analytics and measurement to quantify the value of a marketing effort relative to the investment, and optimize in real time.

Nestlé Dreyer’s/Edy’s Ice Cream was a client of ours for 15 years. Believe it or not, ice cream is considered a commodity. It’s highly emotional in terms of consumption, but very rational in terms of shopper behavior. People look for the flavor first, then compare prices. When they first launched in social media, most of the content they were creating was focused on flavor, price and seasonality, same as everyone else in the category. We helped grow the brand by transcending price wars and flavor parities and thinking about the brand within a cultural context. At the time, we learned that moms faced a lot of pressure to create big, meaningful memories for her kids as often as possible. She was constantly planning the next big event or milestone: birthdays, piano recitals, championship games, even feeling inadequate if she failed to put an intricate love note in her kids’ lunches every day. These are the big gestures she focuses on. And because she was so busy getting from one milestone to the next, she was missing out on all the magic in the seemingly insignificant moments along the way: the sound of a giggle while they’re watching TV, the way they run to her when she comes home from a long day at work. These are the small things that matter just as much, if not more, than the big stuff. So we developed a social and digital content strategy designed to help mom slow down and celebrate the little things. We called them “In Between Moments.” All of the content was meant to create, remind or celebrate the small stuff in life. And since it came from a cultural truth, content opportunities were endless, because we weren’t limited by messages about the product itself. If all you’re talking about is your product or service, you quickly run out of things to say.

  1. From Point of Difference to Point of View

“What is our Point of Difference?”

The answer to this question is the cornerstone of countless business plans, brand positioning statements, and messaging strategies. It’s an important question to answer when it comes to defining a product and how it stands out in a category. But it isn’t usually enough to create brand affinity or belonging. That’s because product Point of Difference can so easily be replicated or surpassed with the next big thing. The best way to transcend the competitive landscape of product features, benefits and price points (no matter how differentiating they may be in the present moment) is to focus first on the brand’s Point of View. A Point of View is the unique perspective or belief the brand has about the category it’s in. It has less to do with what we say about a product and more to do with what the brand has to say about the world. When a Point of View guides product innovation and messaging strategy, the Point of Difference becomes the proof.

Point of View isn’t tied to any one product or marketing campaign. It’s a stake in the ground that defines how a brand looks at the world, and it can influence messaging and behavior long term. At a time when consumers are choosing brands based on what they believe, “What is our Point of View?” should be the new foundation of every business plan, brand positioning and messaging strategy.

When we began working with Logitech G, they were focused on how the engineering and science of their products gave serious PC gamers a competitive edge. But they were inadvertently excluding a large portion of the gaming population. Data showed that 90% of the total market is made up of untapped, casual gamers who don’t see themselves as serious competitors, and subsequently feel excluded by the gaming community. By realizing this cultural tension, Logitech G was able to establish itself as the brand for ALL gamers by redefining gaming as PLAY. The Point of View was simple: If you play, you’re a gamer. This became a North Star that helped humanize the G brand and welcome millions more gamers into the category.

  1. From Storytelling to Behavior

“Storytelling” is to “Advertising” as “Content” is to “TV spot.”  A new word to make what we do seem innovative, important and relevant. But whether you call it a story, an ad, a campaign or a spot, it’s all just talk – a form of delivering a message to an audience. And while storytelling can be successful in articulating and connecting an audience to a brand’s purpose, it stops short of demonstrating it. It’s the demonstration, or behavior, of a brand that proves its purpose and reinforces its point of view. It’s a brand’s behavior that makes its story more believable, credible and trustworthy. Sustainable brands behave as people, and the most successful among them as role models. We look to role models for cues on how we should behave, think, react and show up in the world. While we are inspired by a story, we are influenced by behavior.

In December of 2017, Patagonia announced that it would pursue legal action against the White House due to the administration’s order to shrink two of the country’s national monuments. Visitors who came to purchase outdoor gear from Patagonia’s site were met with a site takeover that directed them instead to learn more about the issue and take action. They could have created a piece of content that talked about their stance in story form, but instead they did something about it, proving their commitment to our natural resources, and even demonstrating that they are willing to lose sales over their response.

On the flip side, Bud Light showed us that when you don’t back up your talk with your walk, it can harm your reputation. They took a stance on the gender wage gap in this ad featuring Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer. But Anheuser-Busch InBev won’t reveal if they themselves pay their male and female employees equally, leaving many consumers feeling that the brand is exploiting a relevant issue without the behavior to back it up.

  1. From “I want to be liked,” to “I want to be worthy”

We all want to be liked. Each of us is wired to seek a sense of belonging through the approval of others. Marketing’s role has historically been to make the audience like, or even love the brand. We spin tales, create emotional connections, and make promises in order to secure the approval of the audience. Because if they like us, they’ll buy us. But what if the role of marketing wasn’t to make someone like the brand and, instead, to make sure the brand is worthy of being liked? That takes a level of introspection at the brand strategy and positioning level to ensure that the brand has a meaningful intention and point of view, with the behaviors to back it up. If we all strive to be worthy instead of striving to be liked, we will end up with brands that stand the test of time, and are loved for generations.

  1. From “Buy this” to “Buy in”

Ultimately, we need to shift our brand and marketing goals from sales alone to brand affinity and advocacy. Success isn’t getting consumers to buy once, it’s getting them to continually buy IN to the brand. Let’s give them something to buy into.