If you’ve spent any time in the technology industry, you’ve probably come across some seriously bad brand names. And what has always particularly bothered me is that many tech companies can’t just stop with one bad brand name—they attempt to create new brands for every single product, service, or sub-brand in addition to their corporate brand.
Take this to it’s extreme and you end up with something like:
Biotron™ Selectronix™ with SignalBoost™ technology
or whatever. I’m sure you’ve seen worse.
I say stop the madness.
The reason this doesn’t work is because getting people to understand the meaning behind one brand takes time, effort, and money. Every brand name that you add dilutes the time, effort, and money you can spend educating people about any one brand.
This is why technology companies end up with lots of sucky, worthless brand names that no one knows, understands, or values. Fortunately, I have a simple tip that can help you focus your branding energy and get you better results:
Call a duck a duck.
Here is what I mean: when it comes to creating brand names, focus your energy on one or two key brands, then choose simple descriptive names rather than creating a new brand every time you create a product or service. In other words:
STOP NAMING EVERYTHING.
When I was at Red Hat, this meant keeping naming mind-numbingly simple. In most cases “Red Hat” was the brand. Almost every other brand name was a simple descriptive name (an example: our flagship product, “Red Hat Enterprise Linux” was… you guessed it, a version of Linux made for enterprise customers).
Whenever someone would tell me how boring this naming strategy was, that they wanted a name that was more “fun” or “exciting,” I would tell them we already had one—Red Hat—and, by ensuring we didn’t name every single product we created, we would make that one brand even more fun and exciting (and more valuable in the process).
The thing that inspired me to write this post today was a conversation I had with my sister a few weeks ago. She was telling me how my nephew Benjamin (who is 3 1/2) names his stuffed animals.
He has a tiger. Its name is “Tigey.”
He has a giraffe. Its name is—you guessed it—”Giraffey.”
She tells me he also has “Pandy,” “Lioney,” and several other similarly-named animals.
I knew that boy was a genius.
By naming things exactly what they are, he makes it incredibly simple for us to know which animal he is talking about. We will never confuse “Giraffey” with “Tigey” when he is telling us stories about their adventures.
If a 3 1/2 year old understands the value of keeping a naming strategy simple, why is it so hard for thousands of trained marketing experts in the technology world?
If his mom lets him, I might start bringing Benjamin in on consulting projects around naming.
I’ll just have to make sure they are scheduled to start after his afternoon nap.
A new book comes out tomorrow entitled Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by MIT professor of economics Daron Acemoglu and Harvard professor of government James A. Robinson.
In the New York Times Magazine yesterday, Adam Davidson wrote a great piece about it. I pre-ordered the book and look forward to reading, but in the meantime, the New York Times article hints at some key conclusions the authors reach. From the article:
“…the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy… when a nation’s institutions prevent the poor from profiting from their work, no amount of disease eradication, good economic advice or foreign aid seems to help… If national institutions give even their poorest and least educated citizens some shot at improving their own lives — through property rights, a reliable judicial system or access to markets — those citizens will do what it takes to make themselves and their country richer.”
A relatively simple concept: Nations that give citizens opportunities to improve their lives—to create value for themselves—give them the incentive to create value—both for themselves and for the nation collectively.
According to the summary on the authors’ website, the book highlights examples of the theory in action around the world and throughout history, “from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa.”
So how might this theory apply to the study of how organizations can build passionate and sustainable brand communities? If we think of brands as nations, what might make them fail or see great success?
Michael Porter wrote a now-famous piece in HBR last year entitled Creating Shared Value that to me articulates the business equivalent of the principle. Here is how Wikipedia describes Porter’s concept of creating shared value:
“The central premise behind creating shared value is that the competitiveness of a company and the health of the communities around it are mutually dependent. Recognizing and capitalizing on these connections between societal and economic progress has the power to unleash the next wave of global growth and to redefine capitalism.”
I think there is a strong connection here, and I would frame it as simply as this:
Brands (and nations) that exist only to extract value from their communities are, in the long run, less competitive and less sustainable than brands (and nations) that exist to create and share value with their communities.
Think about the brands you interact with on a daily basis:
– Which of them are clear value extractors (i.e. they unabashedly exist in order to extract as much money as they can)?
– Which of them are extractors in “shared-value clothing” (i.e. they hide their true selves behind a veneer of shared value)?
– Which of them truly create and share value with the communities that care about them?
If you are like me, some specific organizations immediately come to mind when you see the three categories above. Humor me for a second as I remix the quotes I shared from the New York Times article earlier, but putting them in a brand context:
“…the strength of an organization’s brand community is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average community member shares in the overall success of the organization and community… when an organization prevents the average community member from profiting from its work, no amount of PR, advertising, or charitable giving seems to help… If organizations give even their average community members some shot at becoming more successful — through providing innovative products, experiences, and connections to new people or opportunities — those community members will do what it takes to make themselves, the organization, and the overall brand community richer.”
I suspect that organizations interested in building passionate brand communities have a lot to learn from Why Nations Fail.
And I’ll let you know what I personally learn once I’ve had a chance to read it.
UPDATE 12/15/2011: HP has asked Moving Brands to take down the case study and rework it. From their website: “We have removed the HP case study per the request of HP, in order to clarify the distinction between the aspects of the work that were setting a creative vision for the brand but were not implemented in the market, and the aspects which reflect the actual in-market applications of the Identity and Design System. The ‘Progress mark’ logo is not the go-forward direction for HP.” (Guess this answers a few of the questions I raised below:)
UPDATE 12/16/2011: Moving Brands has apparently been asked to take the videos down by HP as well, so the embedded videos below no longer work. Sorry, folks. What a shame to see such good work get wiped off the map.
There’s some craziness going on in the branding world today. As reported on UnderConsideration, TechCrunch, and Design Week, a new brand identity for HP, one of the largest and most powerful brands there is, has just been unveiled to the world.
But from what I can tell, HP didn’t do the unveiling.
Instead, the new brand identity was showcased as a case study on the website of Moving Brands, the lead agency hired by HP to work on the creative vision for the HP brand, a project that began in 2008. Not only is the final work product fantastic, but the process the team went through to design the identity was also incredibly smart and current.
Here’s a short video from the Moving Brands website that showcases the new identity:
To me, this is a really wonderful example of thoughtful identity work done right. The UnderConsideration article in particular does a nice job of breaking down the process they used. Or watch this video from the case study that shows how the process worked from the inside:
If you’ve been following tech news, you may have seen that HP, which has been a wee bit shaky in the leadership department over the past few years, in September hired former eBay CEO Meg Whitman to take over the top leadership spot after the very short tenure of Leo Apotheker.
One can only speculate if, with the changing of the guard, this project was cancelled or moved to the back burner (TechCrunch calls it “The Radical HP Rebranding That Never Was”), but an agency revealing a company’s new identity to the world on its behalf is something I’ve never witnessed before.
An agency gone rogue or a carefully scripted unofficial test of the new identity? Hmm…
One way or another, I must say that after suffering through the last couple of years of major brand identity launch flubs like The Gap and Tropicana, whether on purpose or not, this identity rollout (as weird as it may sound) feels perfect to me.
Because it is so different than the old skool agency “Big Reveal” of a new identity (“Look what’s behind this curtain! It’s a shiny new logo!”).
I hate the Big Reveal.
First off, the Big Reveal smacks of agency arrogance. Our agency geniuses have gone behind closed doors, deeply breathed in the raw sewage of your current brand… and what has emerged? Why these beautiful, fresh, sweet-smelling brand flowers (and we threw in a spiffy new font for you too… just because we could!).
Second, the Big Reveal always implies a product that is already finished when people first get to see it. Even the patron saint of brand identity Paul Rand was famous for presenting his designs as “take it or leave it.” IBM took it, as did UPS. Steve Jobs did too, after getting put in his place by Rand.
This way of revealing brand identity may have worked in the past, but it faces some very real challenges today in a world driven by social media. The new Gap logo was revealed to the Gap brand community the old way and then quickly rejected through the power of the combined community voice on blogs and social media networks. It never stood a chance.
We will see this kind of community-driven brand influence more and more over the coming years as the communities that surround brands gain more and more power over their direction, and the companies that own them can control less and less.
Which is why I like how this new HP logo came out, whether the company meant for it to happen this way or not. Rather than inflicting a new logo on us that we’ve never seen before as a done deal, we were presented—informally—not just a logo, but the entire story of how the identity got to this point, transparently, openly, and, most importantly, before the decision had been made.
I love when brands are built collaboratively with the people who care most about the brand, both inside and outside the company. By being revealed informally while still a work in progress, this new HP identity feels to me like the beginning of an open conversation with the HP brand community.
Who knows whether HP will stifle that conversation, ignore it, or become an active participant. Only time will tell.
But I have to hand it to the folks at Moving Brands who led the process. This is either a clever way to get some feedback for their client and start a dialog before a bigger commitment is made or it is a ballsy attempt to win over the HP brand community with high-quality work and then enlist the community’s help to force HP not to abandon the project.
Either way, I love it. It’s great design work and a pitch-perfect roll out strategy for the times.
Let’s see what happens next.
HP? Your move.
Once you’ve identified the key communities you think it is important to engage with, the next step is to identify the people you’d like to represent your brand within these communities. For simplicity, I like to refer to these folks as brand ambassadors.
How to find brand ambassadors
Start by identifying the people inside your organization who have the best relationships with each community. These people are the best candidates to become your brand ambassadors. The ideal brand ambassador is already an actual community member, actively participating in conversations and projects with other community members.
While an employee of your organization, this person shares common values, interests, and experiences with other community members. It is less important what position they hold within your organization and more important how they are viewed by the community itself.
After you’ve identified possible brand ambassadors, reach out to them to see if they are willing and interested in expanding their personal roles in the community to include being representatives of your brand as well. Some might already be playing this role, others might be playing this role and not realizing it.
Don’t force or pressure people. The ideal candidate will be excited to be considered and will be passionate about the opportunity, so if your best candidate doesn’t seem interested, try to find someone else who is.
Creating brand ambassadors from scratch
If you don’t have anyone in your organization who is already a member of the community, you’ll need to have someone join. Choose someone who understands your organization’s story and positioning well but also already shares interests, values, and experiences with the community in question.
Have this person attend meetings, join mailing lists, participate on forums, and otherwise begin to contribute to the community first as an individual. It will take a little longer to get started, but it will be worth it if your brand ambassador has a deep contextual understanding of the community before they dive right in officially representing your organization.
Brand ambassadors as faces of the brand
You should ensure that your brand ambassadors deeply understand your brand positioning so they can live it (not just speak to it) in their activities within these external communities. If you are developing many brand ambassadors at once, consider hosting a brand ambassador bootcamp where new ambassadors can practice telling the brand story and get aligned on the overall positioning of the organization. Also use this as an opportunity to emphasize the key role of these ambassadors in developing the brand experience and keeping relationships with the community healthy and productive.
You may have some communities where there is a whole team of ambassadors, not just one. For example, at Red Hat, a large team of developers represented Red Hat (and themselves) in the Fedora community. Invest as many ambassadors as you need in order to provide the best possible support for and adequately communicate with the community.
As you recruit brand ambassadors, you extend the internal core of the brand. Although it is wonderful to see your core group getting bigger, extending your reach is also an important time to ensure consistency. Be very careful to take the time to educate all brand ambassadors well so the entire brand orchestra stays in key.
Brand ambassador philosophy
Wikipedia defines an ambassador as “the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization.” Usually an ambassador lives and operates within the country or organization where he is assigned.
Your brand ambassadors should channel the same philosophy. While they are members of your organization, they should “live” within the communities they are assigned to as much as possible while representing your organization within that community.
Great brand ambassadors are loyal to the organization and to the community at the same time. They develop relationships of respect, honesty, and trust within the community, which allows them to clearly and openly communicate the priorities, desires, and needs of both sides.
Brand ambassadors are not just mouthpieces for the organization, but should also maintain their own personality, interests, and opinions in the community—often distinct from those of the organization. In places where they are representing their own opinions and ideas, they should provide the proper disclaimers. With a little practice, this is not nearly as difficult as it might sound. The key is maintaining an authentic personal voice while being open, transparent, and human in their communications.
Don’t think someone in your organization has the right makeup to be a good ambassador based on what you see here, even if he or she has good relationships within the community? Don’t make him or her an ambassador. The brand ambassador is a representative of your brand to the outside world, and the job carries a lot of responsibility and requires a high emotional intelligence and diplomatic sensibility to do well.
So take the time to find, train, and support brand ambassadors within your organization. With some attention and focus, you may soon find that your network of ambassadors becomes one of your organization’s most valuable assets.
If so, you can find more tips about how to extend your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).
Every organization has people who act or work in ways that are detrimental to the brand. Often, if these people get results (meaning they make financial targets or otherwise achieve the goals that have been set for them), they are praised and rewarded.
These off-brand people are a deadly disease. Anyone who is rewarded for working in ways that are harmful to the brand experience will damage your ability to deliver on your brand positioning.
For The Ad-Free Brand, my friend Greg DeKoenigsberg let me do a sidebar about what he calls the Law of Institutional Idiocy. It does a great job showing how the disease of off-brand behavior spreads, but it also applies at a broader organizational level beyond the brand as well. Here it is:
In the beginning, your organization has a tree full of healthy employees.
If you’re not very wise and very careful, that idiot gets promoted because people tire of fighting with idiots, who also tend to be loud, ambitious, and politically savvy. And then he or she builds a whole team of idiots. Other idiots start popping up elsewhere in the organization.
Letting off-brand people continue to operate unchecked is a quick path to a brand with a multiple personality disorder. It is not only confusing to your brand community, but also can cause lots of internal disagreement and conflict and generally just isn’t they way ad-free brands like to operate.
How do you deal with those who don’t live the brand? Some organizations have a no-tolerance rule and seek to quickly eliminate those who do not live the brand. Some instead just focus on the positive, rewarding those who live the brand while passing over those who do not, even if they are getting results.
No matter which way you go, do not leave anti-brand behavior unchecked. It could make all of your other efforts a waste of time.
From a public relations standpoint, oil companies have it tough these days. The price of gas in the United States is hovering between $3.50 – $4.00 a gallon while oil companies continue to report record profits. Environmental troubles also continue, with the most recent example being an oil spill off the coast of Brazil courtesy of Chevron (where profits doubled in the just reported quarter to $7.83 billion).
It was against this backdrop that I saw the following Chevron advertisement appear on my television set last week:
This is one incredibly tone-deaf advertisement. It actually made me angry.
Articulate, neatly-coiffed, and impeccably-dressed Chevron spokesperson “talks to us straight” as she addresses the concerns of a blue collar everyman. And by the end of 30 seconds, she’s convinced us that, hey, wow, we really are saying the same thing, aren’t we?
After seeing the ad, I went and did a bit of research into the campaign. Surely I wasn’t the only person who found this to be patronizing and inauthentic…
As it turns out, the initial ads first appeared about this time last year, and before the campaign had even launched it had already been dramatically spoofed. Watch the following video or read this New York Times article if you want to hear the whole story.
In fact, the anti-Chevron campaign that this series of advertisements spawned seems to be more powerful than the original campaign (and probably cost millions of dollars less to execute). For example, check out this website, which features over 200 fake print ads based on the campaign. There were also many spoofs of the ads themselves, like this one:
Which brings me to two questions:
1) Why the heck is Chevron still running this campaign?
2) More generally, why do oil companies like Chevron, BP (which spent $93 million on advertising during the height of the gulf oil spill), and Exxon keep wasting their money on advertising campaigns like this?
Advertising is the wrong medium for big oil. When an industry already viewed as disingenuous uses a medium to communicate a message that is also viewed by most people as disingenuous, what do you get?
A double dose of inauthenticity. And very little impact for the money spent, I would guess. So what advice would I give the oil companies on where they should spend their advertising dollars instead?
I’d let Esse Quam Videri (which means, “To be rather than to seem to be” and is the motto of my home state of North Carolina) be the guide.
Rather than spending money seeming to be better corporate citizens, spend that same exact amount of money actually becoming better citizens. Spend the money preventing oil spills. Or making things right for those you’ve already hurt. Or begin a dialog with citizens to learn their concerns and let them share their ideas.
But don’t advertise.
I’m afraid there are no shortcuts to building a positive brand reputation. You actually have to do positive stuff.
Those who chose to invest in perception rather than reality in an Internet-connected world, where everyone has a voice and everyone can impact a brand’s image, should understand that this:
will never be heard over this:
So oil companies, please. Stop using advertising to try to convince us you are something you aren’t. Instead, use the money to make yourselves better, and, over time, with enough good work and progress, you might end up becoming brands we can trust again.
The best 21st century brands won’t be built on advertising alone. Here’s why:
Ask Delta Airlines.
Or ask BP.
The problem isn’t your marketing. The problem is that, when it comes to your brand, your customers aren’t just listening to you anymore; they are listening to everyone who is talking about your brand.
You know this.
But if so many people are aware that the world has changed, why has the way most organizations allocate their marketing and communications time and money not changed?
My advice? Instead of focusing only on customers and prospects, take a more holistic approach where you engage all of the people who care about your brand: what I refer to as the brand community. (I spend a lot more time sharing ways to do this effectively in The Ad-Free Brand.)
In a world where every person on the planet has the power to change the fate of your brand (whether they spend money with you or not), the brand community has to be seen as more than just customers.
For some more from me on this subject, check this out:
Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!
Ever since my friend Paul Salazar first introduced me to the book Built to Last back in 2002, I’ve been a willing member of the cult of Jim Collins. During my time at Red Hat, we took some of the ideas from Built to Last as inspiration for the process we used to uncover the Red Hat values. Then we later employed many of the principles from Collins’ next book Good to Great as we further developed the Red Hat positioning, brand, and culture.
While many of the Big Concepts (TM) expressed in these books may initially seem a bit cheesy and Overly Branded (TM), I’ve come to love and occasionally use some of the terms like BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), the Tyranny of the OR, Level 5 Leadership, and my longtime favorite The Hedgehog Concept. Why?
Because they are just so damn useful. They make the incredibly complex mechanics behind successful and not-so-successful organizations and leaders simple and easy for anyone to understand. They are accessible ideas and you don’t have to be a former management consultant with an MBA from Harvard in order to understand how to apply these principles to your own organization.
I’d go so far as to say that over the past fifteen years, no one has done more than Jim Collins to democratize the process of creating a great organization.
So when I found out that Jim Collins had a new book coming out, his first since the rather dark and depressing (but no less useful) How the Mighty Fall in 2009, and that he’d been working on this new book with his co-author Morten Hansen for the last nine years, I was ready for my next fix.
I finished the new book, entitled Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All a few nights ago, and here are my thoughts.
This book comes from the same general neighborhood Collins explores in his previous books (I’d describe this neighborhood as “what makes some companies awesome and others… not so much”), but instead of simply rehashing the same principles, this book explores a particularly timely subject. From Chapter 1, here’s how Collins and Hansen set up the premise:
“Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? When buffeted by tumultuous events, when hit by big, fast-moving forces that we can neither predict nor control, what distinguishes those who perform exceptionally well from those who underperform or worse?”
In other words, what common characteristics are found in companies that thrive when the going gets wacky? (Times like, for instance… right now.)
In this book Collins and Hansen clearly did an immense amount of research to answer this question. In fact, as with Built to Last and Good to Great, the appendixes at the end “showing the math” for how they reached their conclusions take a third or more of the book.
Their research led to a set of companies that they refer to as the “10x” cases because, during the study period, these companies outperformed the rest of their industry by 10 times or more. After looking at over 20,000 companies, the final organizations that made the cut were Amgen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive Insurance, Southwest Airlines, and Stryker.
Now you may look at this list, as I did, and say to yourself, “Okay, I get Southwest Airlines and Progressive Insurance… but Microsoft????”
Well, as it turns out, the period they were studying wasn’t up until the present day. Because this research began nine years ago, they were studying the companies from 1965 (or their founding date if it was later) until 2002. So in that context, the choice of Microsoft makes a lot more sense. In 2002, Microsoft was still firing on all cylinders (believe me, I remember).
I won’t spoil the whole book for you, but Great by Choice has an entirely new set of Big Concepts (TM) that will help you understand the characteristics that set these companies apart from their peers. This time around, we are introduced to:
–The 20 Mile March: Consistent execution without overreaching in good times or underachieving in bad times.
– Firing Bullets, Then Cannonballs: Testing concepts in small ways and then making adjustments rather than placing big, unproven bets (basically akin to the open source principles of release early, release often and failing fast). But then placing big bets when you have figured out exactly where to aim.
– Leading above the Death Line: Learning how to effectively manage risk so that the risks your organization take never put it in mortal danger.
– Return on Luck: My favorite quote from the book perfectly articulates the concept: “The critical question is not whether you’ll have luck, but what you do with the luck that you get.”
Many of these concepts come with an awesome allegorical story to illustrate them. That’s the great thing about a Jim Collins book: you can’t always tell whether you are reading a business book or an adventure book. In this case Collins (who is also an avid rock climber himself) shares tales from an ill-fated Everest expedition, the race for the South Pole, and a near death climbing experience in Alaska interspersed with specific stories from the businesses he is profiling.
Overall assessment: The book is a fitting companion to Built to Last, Good to Great, and How the Mighty Fall. Simple, accessible, easy to digest, and with some very actionable key concepts that you can immediately put to use. And, unless you read all of the research data at the end, you’ll find it to be a quick read that you can likely finish on a plane trip or in an afternoon.
So go on, pick up a copy and let me know if you agree.
Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great organization without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!
If you’ve read any of the previous brand positioning tips here on my blog, you’ve heard me mention Dr. Kevin Keller, author of Strategic Brand Management (the classic textbook on building brands) and professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
For The Ad-Free Brand, I asked Kevin if he’d share his five favorite examples of real brand mantras. He not only provided the mantras, but also included a few sentences describing why each works so well. Here are his choices:
1. Nike: Authentic Athletic Performance
One of the best brand mantras of all time, developed by Nike’s marketing guru Scott Bedbury in the late 1980s (he would later become Starbucks’ marketing guru). Bedbury actually coined the phrase brand mantra. It did everything you would want a brand mantra to do—it kept the Nike brand on track, it differentiated the brand from its main competitor at the time (Reebok), and it genuinely inspired Nike employees.
2. Disney: Fun Family Entertainment
Adding the word magical would have probably made it even better, but this brand mantra—also created in the late 1980s—was crucial in ensuring the powerful Disney marketing machine didn’t overextend the brand. Establishing an office of brand management at that same time with a mission to “inform and enforce” the brand mantra gave it real teeth.
3. Ritz-Carlton: Ladies & Gentlemen Serving Ladies & Gentlemen
The Ritz-Carlton brand mantra has a clear internal and external message, an especially important consideration for services brands. It is simple but universally applicable in all that Ritz-Carlton does and highly aspirational.
4. BMW: Ultimate Driving Machine
BMW’s brand mantra is noteworthy in two ways. One, it reveals the power of a straddle branding strategy by combining two seemingly incompatible sets of attributes or benefits. When launched in North America, there were cars that offered either luxury or performance, but not both. Two, it is also a good example of how a brand mantra can be used as a slogan if its descriptive nature is compelling enough as is.
5. Betty Crocker: Homemade Made Easy
Another example of a brand mantra that was effective as a descriptive ad tag line, Betty Crocker’s brand mantra remarkably staked out three points of difference (“quality,” “family,” and a “rewarding baking experience”) as well as a crucial point of parity (“convenience”) at the same time.
Thanks to Kevin for providing these awesome brand mantras for The Ad-Free Brand. If you want to learn more about brand mantras, please see this post (or check out Kevin’s book Strategic Brand Management).
Organizations have a lot more to offer the communities they interact with than the products they sell. When these organizations unselfishly offer assistance to the communities around them, they can build powerful relationships based on trust and shared value rather than just on transactions.
Sure, building this foundation will often mean that people in these communities would be more likely to consider buying products or services from you down the road (in case the marketing types ask). But if that is central to your thinking, community members will smell a rat. It is not enough to simply seem selfless while remaining selfishly motivated by your own bottom line.
You must actually care what happens to these communities. You must want to help them be more successful at achieving their own goals. Although this approach seems so obvious, my experience of working in the business world for the last 20 years indicates that it’s not.
Usually when I begin to talk about helping the communities that surround a brand, people immediately assume I’m just referring to typical organizational philanthropy or corporate citizenship work. While in some cases, a community-based brand strategy will dovetail nicely with these efforts, they have very different end purposes.
By carefully considering how you can help the communities of customers, partners, prospects, friends, neighbors, and others that interact with your brand every day, you can not only create value for these communities, you can develop deeper non-transactional relationships that will also benefit your organization in the long run.
If you need help shifting your thinking to a community-based approach, consider the following types of things your organization might do to help the communities around your brand:
Consider investing money in projects that help the community achieve its goals. Bonus points if the investment will also help your organization achieve its goals or further your brand positioning. Red Hat and other open source software companies have done this extremely well, investing in projects that later become the heart of products they sell while also creating value for community members at the same time.
Many communities are in need of assets that individuals can’t buy on their own. Are there assets you already own or could buy and then give to the community as a gift? Red Hat bought many companies over the years with useful proprietary source code and then gave away the code for free. The community was able to innovate more quickly, and everyone—including Red Hat—reaped the benefits.
Your organization might have other assets that would be of value, such as a conference facility that could be used or land you haven’t developed. You could donate your products, services, web server space, or other supplies and materials that might otherwise go to waste.
Your organization probably has knowledgeable people who might have a lot to offer. Consider allowing employees to spend on-the clock time helping on projects that further community goals and support the brand positioning.
Who do you and others in your organization know, and how might these relationships be of value to others in the brand community? Perhaps you can make connections that not only help the brand community, but also help your organization at the same time.
Could you use the power of your brand to shine the light on important community efforts, drawing more attention and help to the cause?
The bottom line…
When organizations begin thinking like members of communities—when they are of the community, not above the community—and bring value in the same ways individuals do, they can fundamentally alter the relationships they have with members of the community.
This means that organizations have to stop thinking selfishly about what they want to get the communities to buy from or do for them (what I call Tom Sawyer thinking) and start thinking about what assets they bring to the table that could create real value for community members.
Faking it will get you nowhere, but when you really bring some tangible value to a community and the community becomes better for it, your brand will reap the benefits down the road.
This is the ninth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.