How do brands build or maintain a leadership position within their customer community? How do brands consistently engage and inspire audiences? What can brands do to shape culture, shift behavior and ultimately contribute to bettering our world?
The domain of inspired activism is no longer restricted to non-profits and NGO’s, but has moved into the sphere of business, brands and consumers working together to shape a positive future. Now more than ever, consumers are looking to brands to be a sustainability leader in their category.
Where do brands start when looking to drive community leadership?
Below are four steps to becoming a leader of your customer community, but first, are key engagement ‘ground rules’ and critical attributes to success.
Community Engagement Rules
- Seek permission to participate in independent community efforts.
- Localize your global brand story by supporting your community’s causes, goals and messages.
- Design your social or environmental contribution to make a difference even if you disappear.
Critical Success Attributes: Captivate > Educate > Motivate > Inspire.
Breaking through the clutter of both brand and consumer-generated media can be a constant battle for community mindshare. Brands today must captivate consumers in consistently new and innovative ways, and one powerful route to success is being entirely authentic and communicating exactly what your brand cares about. Levi’s did exactly that through its water preservation initiatives. “What if your jeans could save 16 million liters of water?” Levi’s asked this bold and unusual question to consumers and wearers of denim, which proved to garner significant, and specific, attention.
Next, you must educate your community. By explaining the lifecycle of a pair of jeans, Levi’s laid the groundwork for an informed audience to feel empowered to take action. Third, motivate your community. Levi’s successful fundraising exercise involved filling a pair of jeans with community donations for water reclaiming initiatives. Finally, inspire your community. Here, Levi’s simply stated ‘we can do more’. These critical attributes in your storytelling provide a roadmap of sorts – get your community’s attention, educate them as to the issue, motivate them to get them involved, and then inspire them to do even more.
4 Steps to becoming a leader of your customer community
#1 Champion Shared Values
Getting behind, championing and communicating values that are aligned with those of your community is a powerful way for your messages to resonate and be amplified by your audience. The Brave Girl’s Alliance’s Truth in Ad’s Pledge saw brands across the US pledging to not photo-shop their campaigns in effort to challenge cultural stereotypes that adversely affect women and girls.
#2 Spark Conversations
Instigating unusual conversations that challenge social conventions can prove to capture and build audience attention. Honda, for example, announced that their drivers could buy bottled water created from the hydrogen fuel cell engine of their car. By sparking a conversation that is intimate, individually relatable, and unexpected, Honda’s message proved easy for its community to ‘pass on’.
#3 Support Leaderless Movements
When brands remove themselves from the spotlight of their own communications, they not only surprise and delight but are able to position themselves as leaders of a cultural conversations that goes beyond the limitations of their products, services or brand reach.
Apple’s powerful video around support of gay pride is an example of brand participation and amplification of an existing, and important, social conversation taking place within their community.
Another example, Chipotle’s ‘Cultivating Thought’ campaign contemplates what is going on in society through the lens of integrity, their core brand story. To communicate such a lofty concept, Chipotle’s simple and elegant solution considers individual’s roles in the world, manifested through quotes from inspiring thinkers from around the world. The conversation then moves to talking about the human condition on the planet and what our roles and responsibilities might be towards the environment, which can be very easily upgraded to the role of ‘Food With Integrity’. In essence, Chipotle is laying out the breadcrumbs to validate their leadership position in the category.
#4 Make A Contribution
The goal here is to provide the opportunity for your community to shift their thinking and behavior towards making positive choices that support social and/or environmental sustainability. EGood is a wonderful platform that allows people to buy a product and dedicate a portion of the sale price towards a cause of that consumer’s choosing.
Another example is Lifebuoy, one of Unilever’s soap brands that goes into communities in emerging markets to provide education on washing hands and all the benefits of doing so, which of course validate the role of the product.
A great perspective here is to think of your communications and community leadership as a lifecycle – make it understood, make it easy, make it desirable, make it rewarding, and make it a habit.
The result? Your brand has the propensity to positively change thinking and behavior. This is how brands shape culture and impact our world for the better.