Where traditional companies push out messages and products, today’s most successful brands pull customers in.
Going beyond social media campaigns and hopes that ads will "go viral", exponential brands weave together the social exchanges and inherent value that already exist for their customers, generating brand gravity and giving people a reason to stay in the loop.
The network effects that make viral content marketing so attractive to companies can be achieved in a more sustainable and authentic way by tending your brand orbit, making spaces and touchpoints that people not only want to spend time in, but will share with their friends. And the exponential growth a strong and reciprocal brand community can generate isn't just the result of customers inviting their friends. A network—or in this case a community—increases in value for everyone with each new member and interaction.
Social exchanges, influence and orbit are exponential strategies to drive growth—since they have the potential to bring exponential results that advertising budgets literally cannot buy.
Before the Internet, all media—books, radio, television, film, magazines, and newspapers—were based on a 'one-to-many' communication model.
Messages were designed for wide audiences and went in one direction only: out.
The publishers and reporters didn’t know when or if you were reading the morning newspaper. When you talked back at the TV news, the broadcaster couldn’t hear you.
In the one-to-many model, everyone is viewed as a potential consumer—of information, entertainment, products, and services.
When the Internet came along, everyone got the ability to broadcast. Brands discovered that their 'audiences' were no longer only on the receiving end of information and content. Suddenly, anyone could comment on a news story—or publish their own—in public or widely-accessible channels.
Social media changed the game again. One-to-many became many-to-many.
Now, people can talk to each other in the same channels that brands are using to push their messages. Audiences have become communities, and the Internet is full of people making connections and exchanging value with each other.
Mass communication has become mass collaboration. Consumers have become co-creators.
Digital communication has brought about the proliferation of channels, the fragmentation of audiences, and the rising importance of influencers, peer reviews, and word of mouth.
We've also seen the devaluation of brands and increased commodification of products through online platforms like Amazon, where people will choose a brand they’ve never heard of with 1,000 five-star reviews over a known brand with none.
All of this makes it harder and harder for brands with a traditional marketing mindset to cut through the noise of the marketplace. The result? Declining loyalty and a lack of differentiation.
Efforts to improve customer experience don't necessarily generate the kind of loyalty and differentiation companies are looking for anymore. That's because they’re still focused on transactions rather than relationships.
Widely used models for customer journeys and sales are all about leading up to and repeating the moment of purchase. But to the customer, buying something is not the focus of the experience. At the very least, a purchase is just a step towards the customer's end goal of using the product or service.
The reality is that relationships between people and brands take place in a much larger social and relational context than many companies realize. Given comparable options, customers will choose a brand they feel a connection with. Often this connection is related to a sense of Shared Purpose or values.
In the evolution of its brand message, beauty and personal care retailer Sephora shows a progression in thinking from transaction to relationship, and from purchase to purpose.
In its early years, Sephora positioned itself as “The Beauty Authority,” focusing on its expertise in helping customers purchase and use beauty products.
This message evolved into "Transforming Beauty” and “Beauty Together,” which brought Sephora and its customers together in a conversation about beauty itself. This also connected Sephora to a larger social movement to question and re-invent beauty standards to be more inclusive and accessible to everyone.
Most recently, Sephora's message is “Be Fearless,” which expands the Shared Purpose beyond beauty to invoke a courageous way of being in the world.
Nursing scrubs are the kind of product you might think would be difficult to differentiate. But Cherokee Uniforms shows how to build differentiation by focusing on purpose beyond their products.
Cherokee Uniforms celebrates the tremendous contributions healthcare workers make to society, saying its goal is to be their champion.
It funds scholarships for nurses, recognizes exceptional nurses and funded a documentary aimed at reducing burnout among nurses.
Cherokee creates a strong relationship with its customers around the Shared Purpose of appreciating and supporting nurses' success and wellbeing.
Medical uniforms—or “scrubs”—are the kind of product you might think would be difficult to differentiate. But Figs shows how to build differentiation by focusing on purpose beyond their products.
The company’s purpose FOR is to “celebrate, empower & serve those who serve others.” They put this commitment into action with an impressive portfolio of contributions to healthcare workers, including a Threads for Threads program that donates scrubs to resource-poor communities.
But where Figs goes beyond their product is when they work towards a Shared Purpose, a purpose WITH their customers to care for the Earth and the humans who live here. The environmental expression of this shows in the brand’s commitment to an ethical supply chain and ecologically responsible textiles. Figs’ effort towards Shared Purpose also includes “missions” where the brand teams up with healthcare workers—whom Figs calls “Awesome Humans”—to provide not only uniforms but also free healthcare services to communities in need. These active contributions to their customers and the things they care about set Figs apart as much if not more than the quality of their products. And Figs benefits from the resulting brand gravity and gratitude that bring in the revenue needed for the company to not only thrive but continue to partner generously with their customers to make the world a healthier place.
Personalization has been a buzzword in product innovation and marketing for years, but many brands are challenged to find ways to personalize that are efficient, relevant, and valuable. Adidas succeeded in finding that balance—leveraging cutting edge tech just enough to create valuable personal take-aways for this shared physical experience.
One way co-creation and shared purpose can show up between brands and customers is through supply chain transparency. It's interesting to see how blockchain can make it possible to offer supply chain information directly to the customer as they shop, with very little friction. We're curious to see how this data-driven conversation between brands and customers evolves, and excited to see the customer-to-farmer tip option facilitated by this tech!
In our conversations about Thinking Styles, we often discuss how enterprise culture sees some styles as more valuable than others in leadership roles. We had some epiphanies when we combined the model in this HBR article with our own, thinking about how different Thinking Styles may be expressed in these various leadership types.
Great example of an activity that happens in the relationship between customer and company, but is totally unrelated to the purchase or use of the product. You don't have to make origami out of the chopstick paper to enjoy eating at a sushi restaurant... but the paper's there so why not add a little value and meaning to the experience? And wouldn't it be cool if brands co-created this with customers by printing chopstick sleeves with patterns intended for origami? I noticed some customers have already come up with designs which use the pattern on the paper in creative ways.
The long term relationship between tech users and sellers includes more interactions related to usage and repair than new purchases. Pulling more of those interactions into their ORBIT—regardless of where the products were purchased—is a smart move.
Interesting use of mobile and AI to enhance a brand ORBIT around a shared purpose with little data
Talk about generating brand gravity—"I invest in brands who invest in me."
Convenience stores + DIY food prep + social media = milkshakes as social currency. Imagine all the free marketing Chevron and F'Real are getting from this. What's the key? Customers become co-creators by making the shakes themselves, which makes stopping at a gas station into a shareable event.
Dangerous or negative things can occur in an ORBIT too. Shared interests often come with other shared traits or demographics, which can make customer communities a prime target for third party manipulation. Brands and products which are fostering peer to peer co-creation and communication should be aware of how those communities may be exploited. The challenge: finding the right balance of empowering customers to freely connect and managing peer-to-peer spaces as a reflection of your brand's Shared Purpose and values.
"All Porsche models have something in common: They have a soul. A certain feeling you get as a driver as soon as you get behind the wheel." Porsche knows that music is a major factor in shaping that "certain feeling," so they leveraged a partnership with Apple Music in a playlist representing their new electric vehicle the Taycan. Smart move in giving a digital vibe to this new-tech vehicle, while also adding to the ongoing experience of the brand as atmosphere.
Forbes highlights a trend in gender-targeted brands that are aligning with socio-cultural conversations relevant to their customers. Especially appreciated this quote from a marketing executive: “Brands must first look at their mission statement and ethos to ensure that the messaging they want to deploy aligns with their core. Consumers can sense when something isn’t authentic and it will instantly set up the brand for unwanted backlash.”
Most companies focus on communicating to persuade customers and promote products. This is the mindset behind push marketing.
Some companies have also begun to listen and learn from the market, or from customers directly.
But today, the most powerful influence is what people say to each other—how your customers connect and collaborate with each other.
To create engagement in a many-to-many world, find ways to enable and empower connections between customers.
and target audiences,
to move consumers
of a funnel.
The language and the thinking here is linear, transactional and directed "at" consumers.
It used to be that companies had to promote themselves by pushing information out so that people knew who they were, what they sold and why to buy from them.
But in the Digital Age, people can find this information on their own. So companies don't need to be as pushy as before.
Today's marketing is more a matter of attraction, of pulling people in towards brands and organizations.
Creating the kind of gravitational field that pulls people in and inspires engagement, trust and participation is a crucial challenge for leaders in the 21st century.
The language and mindset of push brands is
linear, transactional and one-directional.
to target audiences
and drive transactions
The language and mindset of pull brands is
exponential, reciprocal and multi-directional.
with reciprocity and trust
to sustain relationships
and fulfill Shared Purpose
We often talk about a customer’s relationship with a brand. Instead, think of the brand itself as a relationship.
The default brand relationship is Producer:Consumer or Buyer:Seller. These relationships are one-directional and asymmetrical. The company produces the product or service, and the customer consumes it.
Today’s brand innovators are creating relationships beyond Buyer:Seller—ones that are more collaborative and reciprocal.
All these relationships are more reciprocal, symmetrical and personal than Producer:Consumer.
Brand gravity forms around Shared Purpose, which is the larger intention that you and all your stakeholders are working toward together.
People don’t just want to be passive members of an audience. They want to be a part of something, to belong, influence, and engage.
Feeling good about your company's purpose is also not enough to create an authentic connection. Customers want to be in a relationship with brands whose purpose is theirs too. Shared Purpose is what your company does with other players—including customers—not just what it sells to or does for them.
Shared Purpose can shift the relationship between you and your customers from Producer:Consumer to Co-Creators.
If you want to learn more about Shared Purpose, you can read about it in our guidebook on narrative.
Rural communities in the United States have a tradition of communal building called a "barn raising". When someone needs a new barn or house, they just gather as a community with their skills and tools and make a building together.
People have a natural tendency to look to each other for advice and help. Digital technology has given people the tools to build their own “barns" online, from shared resources to communities of mutual interest.
Wherever your stakeholders are coming together as a community is an opportunity for you to strengthen relationships with and among them.
How do you ‘market’ to a barn raising? By serving the community. Making lunch. Sharpening tools. Lending a hand.
What types of communication does your brand invest in? What percentage of your total efforts does each type receive?
Think of major communication and customer relationship initiatives, and which types of communication they focus on. Notice where there are opportunities to do more.
List your company’s key marketing strategies and initiatives. For each, place it on the spectrum from push to pull. Most companies tend to rely more on either push or pull strategies. Where do your company’s strategies fall on that spectrum?
If you've already done the exercises in our Narrative Guidebook, bring over these key elements that connect you with your stakeholders.
What are you creating with your stakeholders?
What does everyone contribute to the Shared Purpose?
What is the role relationship between you and your customers?