Content strategy has put marketing at an interesting crossroads. Every marketer is either watching or actively participating in a paradigm shift in the way that we view our jobs, value our companies, and engage with our customers.
For years, marketers have focused time and resources on building and sustaining a strong brand identity in hopes of creating a meaningful experience around their products. Branding was designed as a crutch to help marketers form real connections between customers and the otherwise cold and impersonal companies. And it has worked better than anyone could have expected. The most successful brands have added billions of dollars to their valuations, and to their bottom lines.
But the rise of more personal communication channels and the proliferation of internet access has made this early function of branding obsolete. Through content, you can now connect with your customers in a very real way: to tell your stories, learn about your customers, and form more enduring human relationships. This generation of more informed consumers not only expects this new form of engagement, but is able to see through the facade created by traditional branding strategies.
Branding for its own sake is no longer an advantage, but a liability.
A lot has been written lately about the downfall of branding in this new business environment that places so much esteem on genuine relationships — and with good reason. The concept of branding has certainly been thrown into flux over the past few years. However, I don’t believe branding and content strategy have become mutually exclusive. Savvy companies are slowly adapting their brand strategies to coexist with content strategies to increase the effectiveness of both.
To truly understand if your brand can elevate to these new customer expectations, you need to ask:
- Does your brand truly represent the values of your company?
- Do your customers believe your brand is genuine?
- Is your brand creating the strong customer relationships?
If your brand falls short in any of these areas, your content strategy may be the best way to elevate your brand to a higher standard.
Below are two examples that offer valuable insight into ways to raise the bar for your brand and deliver better customer experiences, better products and services, and better returns through content.
Nike has consistently been listed near the top of Interbrand’s list of the most valuable brands for years and is the archetype of pure product marketing. However, the company is setting their “Just do it” tagline aside to head in a more human direction. With their new Nike+ service, what started as an experimental initiative has turned into a company-redefining focus on customer-centric content.
“It used to be that when you bought a product, that was the end of the relationship… Now, the purchase of any Nike product needs to be the beginning of the relationship we have with the consumer,” Stefan Olander, VP of Digital Sport at Nike, explained at the Cannes Lions festival earlier this month.
Nike Fuelband, a product that tracks a user’s activity throughout the day, has spawned a whole new direction for the Nike+ brand. Nike+ sprung up around the data being collected by Fuelband users, and has grown exponentially. The company has started to use the platform to deliver customized content that’s focused on a user’s activity, fitness goals, and much more.
This personalized content has moved Nike from one of the most well-known product companies in the world to a customer-focused service provider.
Branding lesson: Your brand needs to stand for more than just your products themselves. Creating compelling brand content and experiences that benefit your customers will help you develop better solutions, better relationships and, in the case of Nike, dramatically disrupt your industry.
For much of the late ’90s and early 2000s, there were very few retailers that could rival Starbucks in terms of inaccessibility, impersonality, and cold capitalist reputation. The company expanded too rapidly, squandered its core competency, and sacrificed the customer experience. (And this is coming from someone who loves Starbucks!)
But today it is a different story. At the corporate level, we are seeing more measured decision-making since Howard Schultz retook the helm of Starbucks in 2008. The company has invested in smarter product development, focusing on brand values and, most importantly, developing a multichannel content strategy focused on redefining the relationship its customers have with the Starbucks brand.
Starbucks was one of the first large companies to adopt a customer-centric web strategy with sites like MyStarbucksIdea — an online forum for customers to share and discuss their ideas for improving the Starbucks experience — and engaging Twitter and Facebook accounts. My Starbucks Idea has generated hundreds of thousands of ideas and discussions about the company, as well as a stronger sense of ownership in the brand itself.
Today, Starbucks remains a standout example of how companies can craft meaningful experiences and use social media to give customers a voice. Starbucks is constantly expanding its content channels and exploring new formats to connect with its customers. I believe it is also one of the best companies out there when it comes to the use of video to tell its brand story. The company’s YouTube channel has over 250 videos that focus on the company’s values, give “behind the scenes” insight, and share customer’s personal experiences.
In his book Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, Schultz shared his theory that, “mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” His bet on authentic content has paid off in a big way, and Starbucks remains one of the most valuable companies and brands.
Branding lesson: The easiest way to give your brand a real personality is by telling real stories. Give your customers a voice. Show the world what your company is all about. Your customers will recognize and appreciate the transparency and help to start reshaping your brand.
As customers continue to push for more genuine experiences and the strategies of larger companies like Nike and Starbucks become more mainstream, I would expect to see the branding conversation elevate to a more honest, and ultimately more effective level.
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