Brand consistency has always been important, but in the always-on era of social, it’s become essential. Across the board, consumers are thinking more about what they buy and who they’re buying from, and increasingly they are looking to spend their money in a way that is consistent with their values and beliefs. In fact in 2017, the Ethical Consumer Markets report found that young people in particular are turning towards more sustainable businesses and nearly half (49 percent) of all consumers under 24 had deliberately avoided a product or service because of its environmental impact. In the three years since, this number has only gone up.
But it isn’t just about sustainability. Consumers don’t want to feel as if products are being sold or even just targeted at them under false pretences. If a brand says one thing but does another, it’s going to be treated just like an individual that says one thing and does another. And with more scrutiny on brands and their leaders than ever before, brands can’t get away with anything that looks like hypocrisy—and that’s a good thing.
But brands must evolve with changing consumer behaviour in a changing society. And the process of evolving from one kind of company into another can be difficult. It’s here that intelligent use of social and content marketing can help. And there are three main pillars to consider.
The digital world is all about community, and brands can find the one that fits them. On social, it’s often useful for brands to think of the people that they’re trying to reach not just as audiences or demographics or targets but as communities that they can be a part of and learn from.
Not only does this help the brand to become more human in how it interacts, but, even if a brand has a clear idea of what its aims are, being part of a community gives it the means to encounter ideas that it hasn’t considered. That means it always has the opportunity to hone that vision and its way of doing things—something it wouldn’t have if it only spoke at, rather than with, its community, just as a speaker at an event might not know what’s being discussed in the audience.
A brand’s community will appreciate its effort to speak to its members on a level. But the benefit goes further. Being part of a community pays dividends when the chips are down: a brand is much more likely to get a fair hearing if its community feels it’s one of them.
Related to this is of course communication. The fastest way to find out what someone thinks is to ask them. Thanks to social, brands can do this: they can go beyond social listening—a hugely useful way of tapping into conversations and learning what people think—and actually put questions to individuals or groups.
Starbucks has always been one of the most effective brands in this area. Using social, it has made a conscious effort to find out exactly what the customer wants and then take that information and turn it into something tangible. It isn’t so much about membership as it is about having a two-way dialogue, not just to a brand’s community but to all stakeholders and interested parties.
This communication has to happen internally as well. In order for a brand to be consistent all the way through—to join the dots—then there needs to be a conversation going on inside as well as outside.
Once a brand has identified its community and made a habit of communicating with its stakeholders, it needs to give them inspiring content. For many traditional brands, digital activity has mainly been transactional in nature. As a result, they can come across as cold and corporate—which is no longer consistent with how those evolving traditional brands are behaving.
In our work for brands such as American Airlines and Anglo-American, we’ve looked to tap into the warmth and humanity we’ve found within the modern company and reflect that in great stories told through social and other content. By getting under the skin not just of their communities but of the people within their businesses, brands can develop authentic tones of voice and approaches to content that truly match who they are. This is the raw stuff for a great overarching narrative, one which engages the customer across multiple touchpoints just as books contain multiple chapters.
The risk companies take when they look to change is to pivot in a way that’s clumsy and inauthentic. We’ve seen plenty of examples of that over the past year, and people see that approach for what it is: inconsistent. But it’s also a risk not to evolve in a changing world. And though that might mean there will be a premium on those agencies who have the ability to help brands maintain consistency while undergoing change, it also means that, as consumers, we will be encountering brands with more personality than ever before.