Recently I penned a book entitled “Bigger Than This” in which I studied commodity brands that people go nuts for in today’s age of disruption and innovation. It fascinated me to think that companies are offering commodities — products that people don’t necessarily need more of in the marketplace, and that see no innovation in functionality or design — were flourishing. All of these companies had two things in common: they possessed fantastic brand thinking and a truly authentic story to tell.
There’s a lot to learn from these brands, for any entrepreneur at any stage of their journey. Here are quick insights into seven of the eight traits I saw in these companies and how they can be reinfused into any brand that wants to connect more deeply with its tribe:
Telling a brand’s story is key to branding and has been a fundamental element of any marketer’s playbook for decades. Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, once famously said, “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope.” Stories can change brand perception more than anything else, but they have to be authentic to truly resonate.
Rewrite your brand’s story by going back to its roots. You have to feel that passion that initially formed the brand, then work your story from there. People love visionaries, problem-solvers, and DIYers. They love passion and, in return, they will become passionate about your brand.
One of the biggest brand rules of all time is “Do not talk politics.” This all went out the window, sparked by a divided America in the 2016 elections and the resulting controversial leadership of Donald Trump. Today, brands take a stand in support of the values they share with the core demographic they serve.
The only way to deeply connect with your tribe through a shared belief is by deeply understanding your members. This is well worth the effort as shared values will always have a bigger impact on your tribe than your products alone. Passionate beliefs, if voiced in an honest, empathetic and bold manner, can become the driving force of your business. Shared values and the expression of passionate beliefs will also likely play a significant role in sparking sales and increasing the value of shares as an added benefit.
We have been “cause-washed” by hundreds of startups jumping on the “buy one, give one” bandwagon started by the TOMS and Warby Parkers of the world. There is a reason why they are successful. According to a survey, almost two-thirds of respondents said they actively seek out brands that support certain causes, and they’d be more likely to purchase from a brand that supports a cause they agree with.
Instead of writing a big year-end donation check or blindly giving a product away for every product purchased, fully integrate the cause into your brand’s messaging so that it can only be seen as truthful. Base it on a logical product/cause proposition that will create an immediate emotional connection with your audience. Then plan for it to be expandable as your service or product offering diversifies.
We love to connect with places we’ve been to, call our home or dream of visiting one day. We sense an immediate feeling of connection and sometimes belonging.
Formulating a brand story based on heritage can be an extremely rewarding proposition if you can connect your product with the desire of consumers to formulate a deeper connection with the place your brand will be known for. This is establishing its “brand aura.”
Connect with (your) heritage and let it speak. It will create conversations that will have your brand as the centerpiece. Just think of how Shinola made Detroit the heart and soul of their entire brand.
If heritage becomes your brand, “buy/support local” may turn into an obvious and sometimes an immediate added benefit to your brand.
Lately, I stumbled upon a slew of successful startups where the small delights they offered were bigger than the actual product. A great example is the pet supply company Chewy, which takes delighting its customers’ love of their pets to heart. The brand sends out handwritten cards, including the customer’s pet’s name and provides a 24-hour hotline for customers to ask pet-food-related questions. How impactful can this simple brand trait of customer delight exactly be? Well, Chewy got acquired by PetSmart.com for $3.35 billion, which was a record for an e-commerce company.
The core idea of consistently providing small but thoughtful delights to your audience is often the only thing setting brands apart.
If you’re operating in a rather mundane segment, think about which part of your audience is not having fun, then catch them when and where they least expect it and shake them up through small, delightful surprises. Start with email and then slowly work delight through your entire communication chain. Your brand will be more loved, one interaction at a time.
You might have heard when Avis, which held the No. 2 spot behind market leader Hertz, famously launched its 1963 brand campaign with the tagline, “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder. Or else.” Translated into a full “We try harder” campaign, it was sheer brand transparency gold.
In a world where we feel cheated by politicians and big brands day in day out, transparency can go a long way.
Especially if your brand falls into a category that aches for transparency, such as financial services and fashion, go ahead and tell all! Customers will instantaneously trust your brand as a whole and prefer your products over your competitors.
Aligning a brand empathetically with someone else’s dream is a move I saw many of today's smart startups use. Often going after an initial niche audience, their entire messaging was aligned around their tribes’ point of view. They exclude everyone else and by doing so they thrive.
Planet Fitness is my favorite case study for a company leading with solidarity. “We don’t judge” is the fitness center’s motto, and “judgment-free zone” is the verbal brand glue that holds its 1,600-plus franchise locations together. Occasional free donuts at the entrance and tweets about sweets connect more than 6 million members that would otherwise not have easily found their tribe in any traditional gym.
It may be time for your brand to wholeheartedly support your tribe’s feelings and actions and, in turn, become one of them. Forming, not forcing, a friendship with your audience is the best way to create long-term brand love – on any budget.
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.