Are We Wrong to Expect More From Brands

The world is changing. Well, technically it’s been changing for a while, but many brands are seemingly ignoring these subtle changes in the hopes they don’t add up to a systematic industry shift, and it’s no surprise in the last few years that numerous big names have been struggling. Consumer confidence is low and thanks to the internet and the exponential rise in e-commerce, it’s never been easier to simply sit inside in your underwear shopping for the best deal, only needing to venture outside for fresh milk and to improve your vitamin D levels. 

In an age of digital screens, virtual worlds, gullible social ‘influencers’ (let’s not forget the hurricane relief effort which was Fyre festival), it feels as though brands shouldn’t rely solely on their core products. Brands need to stop thinking one-dimensionally about how they interact with us and become proactive, rather than reactive. They need to answer the question, ‘‘why do we exist ?’, a fundamental question to help develop deeper eco-systems which turn a key demographic of people into a community of loyal followers.

For myself, an example of this done right is from the ‘marmite’ brand Apple. For the past 19 years, Apple has been evolving its brand as a way to integrate themselves into the community. Developing an ecosystem and attracting customers in a way which keeps them coming back for more.

Apple currently holds the record as the most profitable stores in the world at $6,050 per square metre. They offer a clean, minimalistic retail environment, complete with free charging ports and even a place to check your email. Further to this they have in-store classes, meeting rooms and social spaces but despite their faults, they have got this one thing right, they offer incredible branded experiences. Their staff aren’t trained to sell, they’re trained to educate and inform. I’ve personally witnessed Apple staff recommend customers not to purchase an iPad or a MacBook Pro because it wouldn’t be right for their needs, its this level of honesty that goes against almost everything most retail staff are taught to do by brands. Apple’s products are not their primary focus, their focus is on why they operate the way they do, and how they do it. This is something Simon Sinek explains in his Ted Talk ‘The Golden Circle’ back in 2010.

There are numerous ways for brands to make more money than Scrooge McDuck, and that doesn’t just have to be from your products. Sometimes taking a calculated risk and focusing more on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, instead of worrying about ‘what’ it is you’re selling, allows you to put all your efforts into the areas which create a much more meaningful experience for your customer. A small example of this was Nike’s ‘LONDON: On Air’ event, which invited 1,200 individuals to take part in a pop workshop over three days. It wasn’t about their products, it was about the journey you went through and the experiences they allowed you to take part in.

Another brand which is currently optimising on the notion of community, and also re-evaluating the big question of ‘why?’ is Facebook. Facebook have had their fair share of drama recently (cough), but in 2017 they announced a new mission statement, (perhaps in response to Gen-Z losing interest in the platform and Business evacuating the platform). Their statement was

“To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

and the way they intended to do this, was to empower and promote their groups feature within the platform.

As someone who helped to build and run an 18.5k strong creative community on Facebook, we were pretty excited to see what changes this would bring, and in no time at all, they began being rolled out. These features included better analytic metrics, mentorship programmes for group members, more intuitive management tools, and an optional paywall feature groups could use to generate revenue. This last feature allowed group owners to let members gain access to additional content via a monthly subscription, with Facebook taking a percentage.

That may not sound very useful to an average user but despite businesses leaving Facebook in droves they have yet again developed a way to create another revenue pillar and brand direction by allowing people to work together, build communities and in doing so encouraged users to remain on the platform. Why go elsewhere when a brand like Patagonia might create a group where customers can directly have a say in product launches, give feedback and find other people around the world with the same interests. It’s also helped encourage brands to utilise the platform and work with these communities to generate affiliate programmes, sponsored content and offers. Due to the nature of groups, it’s never been easier to reach so many people who are interested in a single topic, i.e ‘Peloton’ bikes starting a group (now at 64k members) as a way to push their latest releases, offers and engage directly with their customers.

I’m in no way saying that every brand needs to act like these two companies in a weird ‘Freaky Friday’ homage, far from it. I’m merely pointing out that it’s time to start evaluating what else your brand has to offer in terms of engaging experiences. I fall into the ‘millennial’ demographic, expected to be worth a whopping 24 trillion dollars by 2020, according to UBS. We want to feel like we’re having a unique experience with brands, and we want it to be tangible – something Melanie Curtin brought attention to in one of her articles. What better way to achieve this than for a brand to look three-dimensionally at the world and ask ‘why do we exist and how do we utilise it?’.

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