At a time when better, less expensive products and services seemingly are just a click or two away, the conventional wisdom might be that brands are less important than they once were.
And that conventional wisdom would be dead wrong.
Vibrant brands—and not just the biggest ones like Coke, Mack Trucks, Target, and FedEx—are more important than ever in this digital world. But with great power comes great responsibility to earn customers’ loyalty by engaging them in creative, nonintrusive, authentic, even subtle new ways.
Back in 2016, Samsung opened a 56,000-square-foot wonderland in New York filled with all sorts of cool things, including auditorium seating for performances and special events, a gallery featuring curated content, and a broadcast studio. But know what you won’t find there to this day? One single Samsung product for sale.
As Zach Overton, general manager of the center, told me when it opened: “Creating a flagship without retail might sound like a crazy idea, but consumers today are seeking interactions and experiences rather than transactions.”
Another example of a brand that’s using unique ways to engage consumers is Macy’s, which created Story, a narrative-driven retail concept that “invites shoppers to explore emerging small-business brands.” Housed within various Macy’s stores across the US, the Story spaces get reinvented every two months based on different themes—the current one being, naturally, Home for the Holidays.
Get the Message?
Brands must also get better at engaging with customers on their preferred channels and terms. For example, more than 60% of internet users in the US and UK prefer to use private messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct Messages, and WhatsApp to share content and take part in conversations, according to recent research by We Are Social and GlobalWebIndex. More than 2.5 billion people worldwide use at least one of those “dark social” (private) channels every month.
If you listen closely, you can hear advertisers and marketers salivating over such a large pool of prospective buyers. However, they must be careful not to overload people with too much sales-y language on these private channels.
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Just like any other marketing channel, courting customers there is all about building relationships—providing consumers with helpful hints, entertaining them, and, of course, responding to any questions and complaints.
You Give and You Get
Marketing veteran Nikki Carlson, cofounder of ChicExecs Retail and Strategy Firm, writes on Forbes that we’re now “in the middle of a do-good renaissance where brands give back.” And when brands give back correctly and, more important, genuinely, their efforts can increase customer loyalty, Carlson notes.
As well as bring in new customers. In a global study conducted years ago by Cone Communications, 91% of the consumers surveyed said they were likely to switch to a brand that supports a good cause, given similar product price and quality.
There’s no shortage of brands that give back to society. Two noteworthy examples are TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker, which donate a pair of shoes and glasses, respectively, for every pair they sell. Among lesser-known brands, Ivory Ella, an apparel and lifestyle brand, donates 10% of its annual profit toward saving the world’s elephants.
But brands need to be careful not to overplay their goodness. Some companies, for instance, promote their eco-friendly products despite their full knowledge that those products harm the environment. Others publicly join the march toward a cure for cancer even though they use chemicals linked to the disease. And there’s a fine line between promoting the causes your company supports and being seen as exploiting those efforts for commercial gain.
As mentioned earlier, with great brand power comes great responsibility to market to customers and potential customers with the respect they deserve.