Why the Principles of Inclusion and Exclusion Cut Both Ways in Social Marketing

Virgin America is inclusive while Abercrombie & Fitch is exclusiveMuch has been made of the sensational new safety video created by Virgin America featuring a star-studded cast of dancers. In one fell swoop, Virgin America took the archetype of boredom, the mandatory boarding safety video, and transformed it into pure entertainment. But what they did so elegantly was to leverage the dynamic of inclusion in several ways that inspired viewers to share the video thus enhancing the reputation and sales of the brand.

Inclusion was evidenced on several levels and if the following principles can be effectively applied to content as dry as a category as safety videos, they can certainly be extended to all manner of corporate content:

1. Virgin America recognized that they had a captive audience in their passengers that was effectively being tortured by unimaginative videos (presumably that is why they recreated the safety video in the first place).

2. Virgin America literally gave customers a way to participate in the co-creation of the content by opening auditions of the #SafetyDanceBattle.

3. They rewarded consumers for participation by offering prizes that motivated their engagement including free tickets and appearances in the next video.

4. They built social capital into participation by including star dancers and judges in the video and competition.

As for the ROI of taking such a risk, not only did Virgin America and the Virgin brand at large bolster its maverick reputation, but with millions of dollars of free PR exposure and over 8 million views of a video people would normally close their eyes to ignore, Virgin America has leveraged inclusion to the benefit of the reputation and sales of the brand.

The flip side of exclusion can be equally dramatic especially since consumer activism is now well produced and has long memories. Public outcry over the insensitive remarks of A&F CEO is a great example. Response to the CEO’s exclusionary remarks that “uncool” and “fat” people shouldn’t wear their brand contributed to a significant drop in sales for the last seven quarters.

As shareholder calls to remove the CEO get louder, this consumer video is likely to add salt to the CEO’s wounds. The same customer that A&E would hope to buy their clothes is now committed to making it the brand of the homeless to undermine its exclusionary attitude.

At the heart of A&F PR disaster is a failure to recognize that all brands must now demonstrate a commitment to the greater good in a social business market where consumers have the technology and expectations to question brand behavior. The public failure of their CEO is a good example of what happens when leadership loses touch with the marketplace, customers, and the technology now driving sales dynamics.

Success in today’s hyper-aware marketplace is simply a case of recognizing that your greatest asset is your customers and that when you serve and celebrate their interests, they will work with you to build your business. To achieve this, a brand must follow three simple steps:

1. Clearly articulate its purpose or promise to the world.

2. Frame that story in terms of celebrating the benefit to customers’ lives.

3. Invite customers to co-create marketing content and share ownership of the brand.

Executed correctly, and with inclusiveness its core, your customers will become media-savvy brand ambassadors amplifying your purposeful stories in creative ways that build your reputation, brand loyalty and sales.