Old-school brand building focuses on product, package, position, price and promotion. But as veteran business strategist Kate Newlin notes, in a world of almost limitless consumer choices, the old rules just don't work anymore. Brand building today requires that you react to consumers in real time and employ what Newlin calls "brand democracy" where users help decide the characteristics of your product or service - often via social media interaction.
How can a small or emerging business create the kind of brand that customers embrace and even get passionate about? Newlin set out to uncover the precise social factors that drive consumer passion behind today's best brands. She conducted painstaking research, interviewed company executives and analyzed brand data for her new book Passion Brands (Prometheus Books, April 2009). Here are seven "accelerators" revealed by Newlin's research that can help your business establish brand passion in today's tough-as-nails marketing environment:
- Target Values, not Age, Race or Gender: Passion brands rarely target consumers in a traditional way, as in men 18-34. More often, they identify shared values and then illustrate how the brand shares that vision.
- Differentiate with Design: Consumers respond to clever, intuitive products -- a well-designed idea is engaging and can trump other performance features. It becomes something we have to get our hands on it.
- Hire Passionate Brand Stewards: Nothing sinks a brand more quickly than having people behind it who are not really passionate themselves. You'll want people who are more interested in building your brand than their own. Don't take your consumers or their passion for your brand for granted.
- Know They Know You Need Them: We are in a tremendously aware marketing epoch. As Newlin tells her consulting clients, "there are no un-focused group people left in the country." So, get out and watch people in bars, malls, grocery stores, movies, sports events, regardless of the category you're in. Talk to them. Follow them while they shop. Engage them. Notice that you are one of them.
- Democratize the Brand: A brand today needs to live, change and grow. Let the customers in on the process. The ability of the consumer to have it "my way" is a tremendous engine of ownership. Starbucks with its "mocha-cappuccino-double-shot-skinny" ethos is the poster child of this tactic for $5.
- Respect your Brand DNA: Passion brands have a heritage and they respect it. They know what is in the DNA of the brand and how far they can and should go without putting their genetic code at risk. This doesn't mean they are old and stogy, just that they know how their personality can legitimately evolve.
- Brand the Buzz: That doesn't mean you should hire a bunch of 20-somethings to dress in black and ask for your product by name in clubs. This is about being genuinely interesting and engaging, being a brand that people want to talk about, gossip about, and share with friends.