The ecosystem of consumer interaction with brands has evolved significantly in recent years. Mainstream social influence culture, the explosion of video content, on-demand services across categories and the cynicism have rendered it increasingly difficult for brands to deliver meaningful advertising to consumers. If brands want to successfully connect with consumers in a meaningful way, they need to tell stories and create content, rather than ads, sharing their values and purpose.
Someone said “Purpose could be about fun. Purpose could be about indulgence. Purpose could be about being a rebel. Purpose could be about saving the world. But purpose must be intrinsic to what the brand’s narrative is.”
Despite a shifting landscape, consumers continue to gravitate toward brands whose purpose aligns with their interests and beliefs, and are still wary of anything perceived as inauthentic. So how can brands communicate their purpose and draw in advocates if traditional advertising is yielding diminishing returns?
The authenticity of any offering made by a brand to a consumer is paramount in determining the effect that it will have and how strong the reaction will be. Reciprocity holds true for brands just as it does for individuals. In a consumer study conducted by Steve Martin of Influence at Work, one-third of customers visiting a fast-food restaurant went to the counter to order their food without distraction, one-third were handed a key chain as a thank you for coming in and one-third received a cup of yogurt as a welcome as they walked through the door.
The recipients of the keychain bought 12% more than the control but those that received food bought 24% more than the control. They bought food—engaging with the brand—at the deepest level of all test groups because the brand offered them something that was high in their goal hierarchy at the time (people go to restaurants because they are hungry). While economists may think this a foolish approach, a brand offering a consumer what they want—not in response to a desired action, and without seeking engagement in return—has huge effect.
Creating expert content could mean developing spaces where customers can benefit from their knowledge. This could be interactive trial opportunities where experts provide guidance (think free fifteen-minute makeovers at Tara or stores like Spar). Brands can also share information from their unique knowledge base, that consumers might not otherwise have access to. This is what Neutrogena did with their “In the Sun” film about skin cancer.
Free from overt branding and deployed as a public awareness tactic, this documentary film follows Dr. Chi, a dermatologist treating seven families with the goal of educating viewers about misconceptions and methods of safely enjoying the sun. While it may be somewhat self-serving for a brand that does sell sunscreen as a small part of their large portfolio of skincare products, the tone and lack of brand presence helps communicate the brand as genuine and inspirational.
For brands who want to create content in support of purpose, highlighting initiatives is another great way for brands to illustrate shared value with an audience. Take Patagonia with its values rooted in environmental preservation; it was possible for the brand to leverage its powerful position to create buzz for emerging river ecosystem restoration groups. The effort was win-win. The film that Patagonia helped to produce won audience awards when it premiered. It increased awareness of, and advocacy for, an effort to shift attitudes around the impact of hydroelectric power on river ecosystems. It helped an external effort, re-enforced core brand values, and showed the scope of their purpose in an engaging and interesting way.
Today, brands are both expected to represent something larger than their product or service and are limited by the efficacy of their advertising to tell that story. An Edelman earned brand study shows that 64% of respondents would choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its position relative to values held by the consumer.
Additionally, communicating those values and purpose has a greater effect on advocacy than understanding product or service features. Creating shared value content can be one of the most effective ways for brands to show their purpose and whether it’s authentic, not used as a device intended to drive sales and provides something high in the consumer’s value hierarchy at the time it is provided.
Do that and the declining reach of advertising shouldn’t keep you up at night. But if it does, there is always footage of sea turtles sleeping on the ocean floor to help you nod off.