In today’s social media age, brands are created, shaped, resurrected and crowdsourced. But they can be brought down just as quickly by a rising tide of social comments. Control has shifted from big business to powerful consumers -- with voices coming from the grassroots as a groundswell. Today, everyone’s an influencer and the legacy of consumer influence is long to linger.
Companies like Southwest and Chipotle have put customers at the core of their businesses and are innovating in their industries. They have a very strong sense of their brands' vision and purpose, and every consumer touch-point supports and brings to life that mission. They regularly tap into the love of fans of their brand as a way to create new affinity. They also find that their consumers will defend and protect them in challenging times.
Ordinary consumers delight in the shakeup of the airline industry that companies like the Virgin Group and Southwest brought about, love the rebirth of Old Spice, smile to see Mini Coopers and Fiat 500s on the streets in revivals of their brands. These companies and their brands are the happy challengers in their categories: They disrupt the marketplace with positive purpose. And they tend to command consumer loyalty as a result. Their fans champion them when times are good, but also forgive them when times get tough.
What makes a brand evoke joy? The companies involved behave with energy and purpose. They have an unshakable sense of their organization's DNA and worth -- as well as the fundamental truths of their products. And they deliver this message in every single thing they do, from the sales experience, the physical design of their stores, the design of their packaging, the recruitment of employees, their human resources policies and, of course, their communications.
Creating brand joy and, correspondingly, the potential for brand forgiveness is especially important for digital companies. Some say a consumer forgives a poor sales experience in a store and chalks it up to an off day for the sales clerk.
But what's the reaction to a poor online sales experience? This can affect all brand metrics, starting with likeability.
It all comes down to creating a positive articulation of the brand experience. Many companies have made errors or mistakes that create poor experiences for their existing consumers.
Look at the woes facing GM with its recalls and safety concerns. These issues need addressing in real time, transparently and openly. But GM must double down to find the core of its brand and make sure the company can articulate that throughout everything the organization does. Safety has to become a truth for the brand.
Getting to the core of a brand's DNA entails deep reflection. It requires looking at how the company started and where it’s headed. Then the business owner must find the company's unique role in its industry category and determine why that matters to its audience, looking deeply into the truths about the brand and evaluating what makes its products, services and offerings unique. The sum of this is the core of the brand.
Interested in creating brand joy? Could your company use some brand forgiveness? Here are some ways to make it all happen:
1. Look within.
Your brand idea should be something that everyone in your company's organization can identify with and be proud to support. Employees should feel just as joyful about your brand as your consumers do. External communications become far more effective when they reflect and align with the internal beliefs and everyday operations of a company.
2. Think deeply.
Get to the core of your company's DNA through deep reflection. This requires looking at how the company started and where it’s headed. Then find the company's unique role in its category (or beyond its category). Determine why that matters to the audience, looking deeply into the truths about the brands and evaluating what makes the products, services and offerings unique. Simply put, the concept of the brand needs to seek to disrupt with positive purpose.
3. Strive for change.
What is your role within your product or service category? Don’t follow. Set your own path. Look hard at what makes your company's products unique and hone in on how you communicate it positively.
4. Everything the company does conveys a message.
The fundamental truth of why your company exists needs to be consistently brought to life in every single thing your company does including the sales experience, physical design of the stores, package design and the recruitment and human-resources policies. All touch points are opportunities for differentiation of the brand.
5. Give up (a little) control.
Consumers are more powerful than ever, and marketers and advertisers must respect their influence. Think of them as equals and as people, not just as drivers of big data sets and trend reports. Embrace how people can shape your company's brand and encourage their participation.
6. Don’t be afraid to cut loose off-message programs.
Ruthlessly remove all activities and programs that don’t support your brand idea. Great companies focus, focus and focus some more. Overcommit to the core things your company does. Lose the rest.
7. Always question.
When considering your business and its brand right now, ask the following:
Do you have enough "brand joy" to survive a crisis?
What can you do to articulate your company's purpose more strongly?
What are the behaviors that will set your company apart?
How can you behave like a happy challenger?
If you can answer these questions with confidence and take purposeful action, your company is on its way to a happy future.