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Brand Lovers

You Can Get There From Here: L.L. Bean’s Sure Footed Approach To Social Media

L.L. Bean has been very successful in the mail order business for one hundred years. Founder (and namesake!) Leon Leonwood Bean would be proud — and probably absolutely dumbfounded by the latest role the familiar catalog has taken on in the marketing and promotion of his business.

Earlier this month, Liz Pride, who hails from Leon’s neck of the woods, took the L.L. Bean catalog and used it as the basis of her creative endeavor, a quirky Tumblr called “Your LL Bean Boyfriend.” On the site, Pride pairs images from the catalog with short snippets of copy that could have come directly from the pages of your favorite romance novel.

For example:

Nathan quietly opened the door and brought in a tray with a bowl of chicken soup over to me. “Let’s kick that cold you have,” he said, “I know how much you want to go skiing next weekend.”

The combination has been in a hit. In a little over a week, Pride has collected over 7,000 followers, including the L.L. Bean team.  Carolyn Beem, a spokesperson for the sportswear and outdoor gear retailer, told AdWeek, “We’re just going to watch it like everybody else,” she says. “We think that it’s a load of fun. It’s well written, and it’s funny.”

L.L. Bean has done more than watch the popular Tumblr. They’ve even participated, adding their own comment to the site: Elizabeth- we at LLB are loving this. Most of us never thought of LLB and sexy in the same sentence. It is the talk of the office!

A Humanistic Approach To Social Media: Joining The Conversation, Not Controlling It

We have to applaud L.L. Bean for skillfully navigating one of the emerging challenges of social media: the brand-centric conversation in which the brand itself is not the driving nor primary voice. If Clay Shirkey’s right about the cultural and social changes we can expect to see in an environment of cognitive surplus (Not familiar? Watch Clay’s TED Talk on the topic here!) there will undoubtedly be more and more of these types of creative projects being developed by Brand Lovers.

The challenge we have as brand managers is complex. Becoming aware of conversations, assessing them, and determine what role, if any, we have in their progress, is not a process that we, as an industry, have articulated particularly well to date. It is unsettling for leaders who believe they have the ultimate control over what their brand is all about to discover that that’s not true at all: it is customers who build brands, not brand managers and marketing departments.

If one were to speculate on the reason’s L.L. Bean’s leadership believed that their customers chose them before any other brand, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the values of high quality merchandise, rugged outdoor aesthetic and trustworthiness (backed by an almost legendary guarantee) would rank very high on this list. What Liz Pride’s work is doing is revealing another layer of psychological associations Brand Lovers have with L.L. Bean. In Liz’s world, the L.L. Bean customer is sexy, caring, and nurturing. It’s an expansion of L.L. Bean’s key marketing message that evidently has great appeal and the brand didn’t have to lift a finger to benefit from it. The fact that they did, engaging in the conversation in good faith and with good humor, has further endeared the company to those drawn in by the hunky models and romantic prose.

The tenets of Brand Modeling remind us that listening to the customer, completely and on a number of levels, is the route to success. LL. Bean, by abandoning the all-to-common typically litigious, controlling response to creative endeavors with a more humanistic, welcoming, and responsive approach, has gained access to new insights about what their customers value most about their brand. We’re sure they’re going to capitalize on those insights.

Your organization can do the same thing if you’ve got the vision and courage to commit to putting customers first.

Being Smart About Story Time: A Humanistic Approach To Marketing

What are your competitors going to be doing to attract their customer’s attention in 2013? Many of them are going to attempt acting less like advertisers and more like publishers, according to this Adweek article focused on the digital marketing trends to expect in 2013.

Strategic product placement within narrative text or video pieces designed primarily to offer value to the public (in the form of information or sheer entertainment) is a formula that has proven to have some traction. The lines between editorial content and advertising content are blurring across all platforms. Journalistic objectivity, a once-sacred cow, is rapidly becoming something we worried about yesterday. In the evolving ethical environment, it’s okay if your content has an agenda – provided you’re honest about what that agenda is.

It’s pretty easy to extrapolate an explosion of brand-created content in the near future. People like and respond to stories, both the informative and the entertaining. Digital content is easy to produce, and relatively low-cost. Given this information, shouldn’t every brand be telling stories?

Well, yes. And therein lies the problem. When you have a tool that works, and it appears both easy to use and cheap, you’re going to see that tool adopted with a wide-spread enthusiasm. The result? A glut of content flooding into an already swamped marketplace. There are already millions of places for your customer to get their information and entertainment. Why are they going to choose yours?

Toward a Humanistic Approach To Marketing: Finding Content That Resonates

The great news is that your brand doesn’t have to try to create content that appeals to all of your brand’s customers and potential customers, past, present, and future. If you want to be smart about content marketing, it’s essential to identify and articulate only those stories that are going to be relevant to and resonate with your very best customers. Your very best customers are those who do lots of business with you, who ardently recommend you to their family, friends, and colleagues, and who choose your brand before any other. (These are the folks we call Brand Lovers: you can read about them in Customers First)

Your Brand Lovers are a fantastic source of stories and content about your organization that other customers (current and potential) will find very compelling. Spending time with your Brand Lovers, listening to and learning about them, is an essential way to identify the types of cultural narratives they find irresistible. These stories may be distinct from those tales that win admiration and approval from society as a whole.

For example, Pepsi Max is currently running a campaign that features three young men tricking their boss in order to get free time off to watch the Big Game. The technique they use (also known as gaslighting) is very frowned upon in socially-aware circles, but Pepsi Max is clearly confident that their customers will find it side-splittingly funny — something that they wish they could do themselves, if only circumstances permitted. Their Brand Lovers can envision themselves within the entertaining narrative, taking on the role of the clever trickster for their own. It’s a little bit of empowerment that they can tap into every time they choose a Pepsi Max.

That’s a smart use of story telling. Because it is very specifically targeted, psychologically, we think it will be an effective campaign. Other stories that are crafted without the focus on understanding who the Brand Lover is and what they enjoy are likely to fall flat.

Playing Chicken With Your Brand: The Need for Authenticity

If we ever needed an illustration of how social media has changed the dynamic of corporate communications, we need look no further than Chick-fil-A.

It’s no secret that the leadership of the quick-service chicken chain is openly hostile towards same-sex marriage; they donate millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations. Dan Cathy, son of the founder, uses what he calls Biblical principles to run the business. The restaurant is not open on Sunday; they operate debt-free.

How does this play out on social media?

Putting the Social in Social Media

We talk a lot here about the need to belong, and why participating in groups is so important to people. Right now, let’s talk about the mechanics of how people get into groups in the first place, and what they do to stay well-positioned in the group, once they’re in.

Groups are formed by affinity; like-minded people gravitate toward each other. One way for the individual to be welcomed into the group is to announce they have the same values and beliefs as the rest of the group. Chick-fil-A does an exceptional job articulating its organizational values to the public. Customers who find these values in alignment with their own will favor Chick-fil-A. Customers who find these values counter to their own obviously will not.

Social media provides the platform where groups form and engage with each other. After Dan Cathy’s statements confirming the organization’s committed negative stand on same-sex marriage, the Jim Henson Company decided it no longer wanted to work with Chick-fil-A. They made their decision public on Facebook.

In response, the next day, Chick-fil-A posted paper signs in their franchises, announcing Jim Henson toys would no longer be available at Chick-fil-A due to a mysterious safety recall.

That’s the type of incredible coincidence the internet just loves. Gossip and speculation flew faster than the speed of light. There are countless articles, blog posts, and social media postings questioning the sincerity of this voluntary recall. Chick-fil-A did not present as credible. The bad impression compounded when it became obvious that someone was manufacturing sock puppet Facebook accounts to defend the brand.

It did not help matters that the Consumer Safety Protection Commission has reported no known safety issues with the puppets.  The CSPC is the governmental agency that usually handles this sort of thing.

It’s hard to be taken seriously as an organization guided by Biblical principals when you look like you’re bearing false witness. This, more than anything, is what may do real, lasting damage to Chick-fil-A’s brand equity. People believe what they believe about equal rights for all: a chicken restaurant is not going to change their mind—no matter how good those Waffle Fries are!

But now an element of doubt has been introduced into the equation. Chick-fil-A’s biggest fans (the people we’d call their Brand Lovers: the most profitable, engaged customers) and those who are favorable toward the brand are faced with uncomfortable questions.

An Alignment of Values

Were they lied to? And if they were, why? The customers who adhere to this brand and its values are not people who would leave over a forthright statement that acknowledged that the chicken restaurant parted ways with the Jim Henson company over political differences.  Lying is bad enough.  Lying for no discernible reason is worse.

Not every Chick-fil-A customer will ask these questions.  But some of them will, and they’ll talk to their family and friends. Brands are built on trust between the customer and the organization. There is a vital and critical sense that the values of the brand are in alignment with those of the the customer.  Right now, Chick-fil-A’s knocked the cart right off the rails. Even if they’re not lying, it looks like they are.

It’s obviously a tumultuous time at the company. Don Perry, VP of Public Relations, recently died. To move forward, especially in the arena of social media, it’s essential that the brand focus on bringing its actions back into alignment with the values their customers know and expect. Honesty is the best policy. And in today’s fast paced social media environment, verifiable honesty is even better.

What do you think? What advice would you give Chick-fil-A as they move forward?

The Sweet Smell of Success: How Understanding Your Customer’s Unconscious Motivations Can Help Build Your Brand

There is a great article in Forbes discussing how P&G revived the Febreze brand, bringing it back from near-death status to one of the company’s leading money makers.  It illustrates very well how critical it is to understand the unconscious factors that motivate customer behavior.

Febreze, if you’re not familiar, is a specific kind of air freshener that can be used to treat upholstery, carpeting, and other items that can’t be washed.  P&G tried to market Febreze as an odor eliminator. That effort failed, in part because there were not many customers who thought that their lives were all that smelly.

When P&G changed their efforts and marketed using Febreze as a rewarding experience after you’d cleaned a room, sales went through the roof.  When we stop to think about it, this makes a lot of sense.  Who are P&G’s best customers? (The people we call Brand Lovers?)  By and large, they’re people who do a lot of cleaning. A clean, tidy home is important to them. They’re not people who are going to eagerly proclaim  that they have bad smells in their home—in fact, many would find that type of admission very shameful.

Positioning Febreze as a reward for something that P&G’s best customer’s were already doing (cleaning the room) was a transformative exercise.  No longer was using Febreze a tacit admission that your housekeeping efforts just didn’t cut the mustard.  Instead, using Febreze was a sign of a job well done; a pleasant sensory experience that you could enjoy as a reward for your efforts.

Unconscious Factors That Guide Customer Behavior

If we were going to reduce the Febreze situation to it’s simplest terms, we have this: in one mode, using Febreze made the customer feel like a failure. In the other situation, the customer feels good about using Febreze—it’s a treat to be enjoyed and savored. The emotional impact of the two scenarios are very different.

We gravitate toward emotional experiences that make us feel good.  We want to be happy. We like to be rewarded. To be told we’re doing a good job—especially in scent form, for olfactory cues are some of the strongest emotional triggers—is a powerful thing.

Identifying the Emotional Experience

It’s essential to identify the emotional experience that your customers are seeking. P&G initially marketed Febreze in a way that provoked a negative emotional reaction: no one enjoys feeling shamed and inadequate. By identifying a different emotional reaction that is more in keeping with what P&G customers were seeking—a feeling of pride, satisfaction in a job well done, the sense of being rewarded—it became possible for the customer to enthusiastically embrace the brand.

Up to 90% of customer behavior is unconsciously motivated. Many times, customers are oblivious to what leads them to choose one product over another.

You’re not going to see people standing in the cleaning product aisle saying, “Hmm, this provokes deep, uncomfortable feelings of shame in me, while this one makes me feel good about myself, virtuous, and hard-working.”  But that conversation is happening on some level in your customer’s mind.  Companies that understand that can position their products to occupy the more desirable position, and that’s why they win.

Success by the Slice: Does Being “Flawsome” Work For Domino’s?

PhotobucketPerfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Just ask the folks at Domino’s Pizza.  In 2009, the company’s pizza came in last in a national taste test—tying with Chuck E. Cheese, an eatery known more for the presence of video games and children’s amusements than anything on the menu.  At that point, (and after bringing on a new CEO, Patrick Doyle) Domino’s launched a new marketing campaign, admitting that they weren’t perfect.

In fact, they were pretty far from perfect.  This campaign featured images of horrendous looking pizzas and consumer panels admitting, on camera, that they didn’t think there was any actual real cheese to be found on a Domino’s pie.  The company vowed to improve, and made a very public spectacle of their efforts to fix things.  They even posted a live feed of customer Tweets in Times Square: a highly visible, real-time response to their improvements for all the world to see.

As a result, Domino’s has seen their sales numbers improving steadily. Investor confidence in the brand has skyrocketed. In 2011, Domino’s stock prices rose 110%. Being “Flawsome” appears to be a smart strategic decision for Domino’s.  But why did it work?

Understanding the Brand Lover

The relationship between a consumer and a brand is a complex and nuanced one.  There are many, many factors that lead a person to order pizza from one restaurant rather than another. When we start delving into what the underlying appeal of what a marketing message of “We weren’t very good, really, but we’re trying to get better!” might be, we have to examine not only how the customer views the pizza restaurant in question, but how they view the world in general, and their place in it.

We are dealing right now with a consumer base that has been trained to be skeptical about everything. Having faith or trust in an institution is viewed as a nostalgic form of naivete; we’re sure that there’s going to be a fly in our bowl of soup. Reaching this market with a message of perfection or idealism isn’t going to work. This audience is not capable of believing such things. They know nothing in this world is perfect and they prefer to do business with a company that is honest about their imperfections.

Organizations that can acknowledge their own shortcomings, while putting forward a reasonable plan to remedy the solution with a sense of humor and maturity, appeal to these customers. The customer can identify with the brand—after all, they know they’re not perfect people. They’ve screwed up themselves, once or twice, over the years.  They may have had to go through their own process of rebuilding. There are common points of experience between Domino’s and the legions of customers driving the brand’s turnaround. The brands that are the easiest for customers to bond with are the brands that are most human—and haven’t we been told that to err is human?

There’s a lot to learn from Domino’s. Organizations that move in a more humanistic fashion, understanding and embracing those traits that bring them closer into alignment with their Brand Lover’s experiences and world view, are those that are going to dominate, even in a crowded marketplace. There is value in being “flawsome.”

Does Netflix Know What It Is Doing?

PhotobucketAt first, we thought it was a joke—and not a particularly funny one at that.  Surely Netflix, one of the most successful and dominant brands in the world, wouldn’t make a bunch of boneheaded moves seemingly tailor made to alienate their customers. Not Netflix. We’re talking about the company that broke Blockbuster, the savvy, smart, forward looking firm that changed the way we consume media.

And yet here we are. Here we are with Reed Hastings’ shamefaced apology email, sent to millions of customers, explaining that the changes in pricing that had upset so many was only the beginning.  Going forward, the DVD rental business would be split off from Netflix, which would continue to provide streaming content.

It’s clear, reading Hastings’ words, that streaming content is central to his vision of Netflix’s future going forward. He’s not alone in believing that eventually, the lion’s share of all entertainment media we consume will be available online. We respect his vision for his industry’s future.  What we’re not so sure about is his grasp on the industry’s present.

Customers First: Valuing the Brand/Customer Relationship

We all come hardwired with deep, powerful, unconscious psychological motivators that influence our behavior—as individuals and as consumers. Our company calls these forces Humanistic Drivers. One of the most powerful Humanistic Drivers is the desire to belong to a group or community.

For a long time, we filled the need to belong by participating in community groups, social organizations, faith communities, and the like.  Increasingly, though, cultural changes have taught us to switch our attention and our affiliation away from these institutions. Instead, we’re placing a higher premium on the relationship we have with brands.

Netflix became successful because they made it easy for consumers to build a trusting relationship with them.  A high level of commitment to superior customer service, a deep and wide ranging product selection, and customized suggestions made customers feel cared about and valued. There was a sense of community: both consumer and Netflix were united in the search for something good to watch on a rainy Sunday night.

That sense of community took a serious hit with Hastings’ latest communications.  Surveying recent consumer sentiment reveals that consumers—including some of Netflix’s most devoted fans—feel deceived and lied to.  The claim that separating the DVD rental and streaming content will provide better service to customers falls flat.  The fragmentation is confusing, and there’s no tangible benefit immediately apparent to the customer.

Netflix built a successful community.  Now customers are seriously questioning whether they want to remain members of that community. The service that initially attracted them—renting DVDs by mail without late fees—is now, somehow, no longer relevant to the community they joined? Before making a change to the fundamental operations of your company, it is a good idea to forecast how those changes will be received by your Brand Lovers—those most fervent, loyal customers who contribute the most to your company’s profitability. We’re not getting a sense that this was done here.

Can Netflix recover? Perhaps.  But rebuilding damaged relationships takes time and skill.  Hastings and the rest of the Netflix leadership team need to begin the rebuilding process by taking a look at why they went so far off the rails in the first place.  The damage starts when you stop putting customers first.