Want to create a big brand? Steal those secrets from Patagonia, Yeti,
When digital advertising arrived over 20 years ago, most companies made the mistake of assuming it was simply a replacement for analog – that the difference was a broadcast system, and not a fundamental change in dynamics.
Instead of seeing an opportunity to use new techniques to create a great brand, most companies simply adapted the shiny new tools to their old disruptive marketing strategy. 30-second TV spots became 30-second pre-rolls. Print ads have become banner ads. Junk mail has become spam. Before long, brands took to social media and offered us cat memes and ice bucket challenges, not realizing that the fundamentals of brand building had completely changed. The secret ingredient that most brands lack is empowerment.
With each new technological advancement – artificial intelligence, augmented reality, metaverse, to name a few – companies continue to stride forward, missing the bigger picture: big brands make people’s lives better, a small not at once. Big brands use every tool at their fingertips to empower people. Poor brands waste these tools on interruptions and frivolous messages, never changing their underlying strategy to recognize that technology has completely changed the relationship people have with brands.
Moving the relationship from transactional to emotional
When brands move from interruption to empowerment, they fundamentally change their relationship with their customers from transactional to emotional. Transactional brands offer the right product at the right price at the right time. If someone needs this product and the price seems right, they will buy; but they won’t be a loyal customer and certainly won’t actively recommend it. They experience the brand as a rational, short-term transaction.
Emotional brands, on the other hand, create irrational relationships, in the most positive sense of the word. They generate irrational enthusiasm. They may charge irrationally high prices. Their customers ignore the competition. Many become evangelists who promote the brand on their clothing, social media, online reviews and in heated conversations around the dinner table. The power of evangelists reveals one of the most critical rules of modern commerce: the more evangelists you have, the fewer ads you have to buy.
Think beyond interruptions and superficial messages
Patagonia is the poster child for this approach, invest massively in events, online content and documentaries to defend the environment. At one point, the brand even used its homepage to say “Don’t Buy This Jacket”, as a way to educate people about the harmful impact of consumerism. But empowerment doesn’t always have to be a Patagonia-inspired public service initiative promising to save the world. While such efforts are great, most people don’t expect brands to hug the trees and save the manatees. They simply want to improve their own lives, one small step at a time.
Fender, for example, looked at empowerment through education. The company came under pressure when offbeat young musicians from traditional instruments to electronics and computers. In response, the brand created a platform called Fender Play that offers personalized video lessons that harness data, technology and creativity to help budding musicians become better guitarists, whether they own a guitar or not. Fender. This effort sheds a positive light on the brand, ultimately generate interest in its products.
Inspiration is another powerful empowerment tool. Yeti is the obvious example, as the brand grew exponentially creating immersive stories about people experiencing some of the world’s most amazing adventures. Smaller brands in competitive industries have also picked up the torch, including 805 Beer, which created a series of films about people living the brand’s laid-back culture. These videos have turned their customers into brand evangelists who share the links on social media and act as walking billboards covered in hats and apparel emblazoned with the 805 Beer logo.
Give customers what they want
Perhaps the most overlooked form of empowerment is simply making shopping easier and more informed. Like businesses, people want a positive ROI for their purchases. Helping potential customers understand product features and functionality might not be as sexy as creating cool 30-second ads, but it’s a great tool for empowering customers.
Warby Parker became famous for breaking the monopoly in the eyewear category. Not only did they make it easy to try on glasses from the comfort of your home, but they donated a pair with every purchase. Yet much of their current success stems from the brand’s incredible customer service, which connects their mobile app, website, and stores. This connection mattered so much that its management looked at dozens of different point-of-sale technology platforms before deciding to build their own from scratch to meet their exact needs to understand each customer’s eye care needs, style preferences and purchase history.
The common thread running through these brands is that they have found an authentic and valuable place in the lives of their customers. They create immersive experiences that connect what’s important to the brand with what’s important to its customers. When brands create content that improves people’s lives, they can stop worrying about whether enough people are watching their 30-second ads. They can entice fans to invest 30 minutes, or even 30 hours, in engaging them with immersive and compelling content that they actually want to consume.