Marketing for Thought

We the people own the brands

We, the people, are surrounded by choices. We are bombarded by different brands every minute, every day. So, how do companies distinguish themselves? Is a cool logo enough? Good commercials? A Perfect product? Consistent social media activity? While each of these things play a strategic role in branding, the key to winning consumers over lies in remembering what the consumer values about the product and company and how your company or product’s story connects and resonates with the customer.

What the customers value matters

Frito Lay produces extremely popular and successful “party and fun snacks,” but they also understand the importance of the customer’s role and satisfaction with the brand. Six months ago, Frito lay embarked on the ultimate customer-input journey: a flavor contest.  Lay’s “Do us a Flavor” started July 20 and asked fans to cast their most creative votes on what the chip’s new flavor should be. By October 6, they received over 3.8 billion submissions from their fans.

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Here, Frito Lay’s took advantage of what their customer’s valued about their product and company and turned it into an opportunity to create a new flavor based on the customer’s desires.  On their website, Frito Lay’s describes their snacks as the “party and fun snacks,” so what better way to engage with their customers than through a contest? Frito Lay’s consumers value different flavor varieties, so what better way to learn what they are looking for than asking them to participate?

A week ago, Maker’s Mark announced they were reducing the alcohol content from 90% proof to 84% proof.  With the increased demand for their product, watering down their product was the only way they saw fit to meet the demand.

makers mark

Now take a step back. Maker’s Mark bourbon is known for its carefully crafted taste. Why would the company consider reducing an aspect of their product that their customer’s highly value about the brand?

After a week of angry consumer’s taking to Facebook and Twitter to argue against this change, Maker’s Mark announced on Sunday that they will not be reducing the alcohol anymore. In response to the social media outrage, they tweeted, “You spoke. We Listened.”

Lesson learned: power to the people

What can we gather from Frito Lay’s “Do us a Flavor” and Maker’s Mark? As Marc Gobe said in Emotional Branding, ” Brands belong to the people.”  For successful branding strategies, companies must recognize the values customers are looking for and incorporate them in their story.

In addition to recognizing values, companies must also create a story that resonates with their customer. Melinda Partin, CEO and cofounder of Worktank, touches on the importance of connecting values with the company’s story. She believes that  the right stories placed at the the right time will resonate with customer’s in similar situations and undergoing similar emotions. This creates recognition and relevancy with the brand.

The goal with corporate-brand storytelling is to transition the consumer from awareness to trial to advocacy. You want people to use your brand to describe their life: A “Windows User,” a “Mac Guy,” a “Honda driver” and so on. (Partin, “Brand Storytelling: Connecting With Your Audience“) 

In her article, she uses the example of AT&T 8525 by HTC, a Windows Mobile smartphone.  They created an ad depicting a businessman in an airport, sitting at a desk decked with typical office equipment, in the middle of the hustle and bustle of travelers. Outside of the desk, we have all been there: feeling overwhelmed by all of the people with different agendas in airports, stressed about work we are leaving behind or coming back to. These are emotions we can all relate to. So what does the AT&T 8525 do for its owners? It gives you a home office on the go- everything you may need at your own convenience  eliminating stress and anxiety in any tough situation. This connects an emotion-stress- in a story that we can all relate to, and gives you the solution: the new Windows Mobile smartphone.


Values and Storytelling for Social Causes

What makes people follow a social cause?

People have many reasons for following and getting involved social causes.  Why do students dedicate time to certain causes and not others? Below illustrates three students involvement with social causes and why they have picked their cause.

Student 1: “I am involved with Women for Women International because I believe that women’s empowerment is the forefront to helping families out of poverty. It helps women out of wartorn and poverty stricken areas with education and resources to become independent and sustain a sufficient family. I really suggest getting involved with the organization even if you can donate a little.”

Student 2: “My family hosts charity events and collects for Toys for Tots during Christmastime to help children in need get presents from Santa  We have been doing this since I was little and are motivated by the sad stories we hear about needy children not getting anything for Christmas when it’s the one day a year when everyone should be happy! It’s always been part of our Christmas tradition and makes us feel like we can help other families have a good Christmas just like us.”

Student 3: “I am involved with Winkler Botanical Preserve. I’ve been working there since I was a child and have continued my service because when I’m around kids my maturity level drops down to theirs.”

From the three examples above, numerous themes can be identified.

  1. Their strong values mirror the cause’s values.  For example, Student 1 is a strong advocate for women’s rights and women empowerment, thus Women for Women International is the perfect organization for her. Further, Student 2 emphasized the importance of being happy, especially on Christmas.  This is similar to Toys for Tots goal.
  2. Their stories resonated with the student. Images of children not having a happy Christmas connected with Student 2, who couldn’t imagine a sad Christmas.
  3. They saw their personal advocacy and donations make a difference. They were able to get involved and make a difference that they saw first hand. Student 3 compared her attitude to the children’s attitude and valued the experience and perspective she was receiving from the kids. Student 2 also saw her results first hand by hosting toy drives and delivering them to shelters.

These values prove that people are looking for similar things in non-profits that they do in profit brands. They want to be connected on an emotional level, they are looking for a story that relates to them, and they want to see their own efforts and volunteer work succeed firsthand.

Bottom line

Brands are more than just products associated with names and logos. A powerful brand stimulates emotion, connects to the audience, and makes their products, services, and causes relevant to their consumers and volunteers. Through storytelling and recognizing their audience’s values, company’s have the potential to create strong relationships with their audience and achieve their goals, whether it is maximizing profit or raising money for a charity. Consumers and volunteers want value- and they want to see their loyalty appreciated and their efforts towards a cause prevail.

This post is a part of a series of posts for Integrated Marketing Communications class that explores strategies of integrated marketing communications and recognizes strong and weak branding strategies today.

Partin, Melinda. Brand Storytelling: Connecting with your Audience.Fast Company.
Barroque, Brett. Maker’s Mark to return alcohol content of whiskey. Boston Globe.
Mitchell, Elizabeth S. Lay’s Do Us A Flavor Contest: Customer’s Vote for their Favorite Chips. PRNewser.

One thought on “We the people own the brands

  1. Makers Mark definitely got a huge amount of attention from that reduction of alcohol volume. You are 100% correct in saying they are known for their taste that crafts their brand image. Now the question I raise from consumer behavior beliefs, is would anyone have noticed the difference if they didn’t say anything? Our perceptions often allow our senses to be biased or to expect something out of a product if it is built up to be a certain way. Another way I look at their reduction of volume is a huge publicity stunt. I mean sure it could have been a bad decision, or a genius one depending on how you look at the decision. This brand is already powerful and generated a large amount of emotion within the users. You raise a lot of other great points in this blog, keep up the great work.

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