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Brands Have a Bigger Role to Play in Society: Fueling Democracy

Their Capacity to Promote Freedom Is Worth the Risks

By Published on .

It's more often the case that you don't choose the things you believe in, they choose you, and in the name of "universal conscience," whether nascent or proactive, mercurial brands Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Google have certainly acted influentially and are unsurpassed in history. "Brand" has always favored revolution, and the likes of these brands metaphorically represent this freedom tsunami in several ways -- the people, the place and the time. Many are referring to what we are witnessing as an internet revolution, but we are also witnessing a revolution enabled by new-century brands with unique capabilities that fundamentally offer a platform for action.

While brands proliferate indigenously, there is still a massive bond between "brand" and "western." Brands are the flag bearers and marketing's the battle standard for the "freedom" they come to symbolize. How effective the role brands play in fueling freedom and democracy is debatable, but it cannot be ignored. CMOs know that brands now not only have different economic value, but indicate different normative values as well, that have a direct bearing on the environment in which they reside. However, the role of brand is not a fairytale and no CMO wants his or her brand to symbolize a chaotic violent period, especially as happy endings aren't guaranteed.

However, if a brand seeks to bond with its consumers, CMOs know it needs to stand for something relevant, unique and of value to them, like standing up for the right of ordinary people to basic rights -- the rule of law, the right to free assembly and free speech. Freedom is the celebrity that has center stage across the world right now.

So how do CMOs prove the leverage of brands' role -- a role that can demonstrably be a platform for action by activating a fan base of millions? And with word of mouth the number-one influencer of purchases, the potential payoff is huge.

The timing is ideal for CMOs to seize this opportunity, strengthening brands' role in society and taking consumers' participation deeper into core business strategy. The opportunity rests with the phenomena of social sharing, which CMOs should primarily leverage to connect with customers, sparking a conversation -- not just a pure sales play. What it takes is a "fans first" philosophy that guides the brands' overall engagement strategy. This represents a move away from push advertising toward a model of listening and engaging where appropriate. So the challenge for a CMO who desires his or her brand to be in the social space is to figure out how to achieve it in a non-big-brand way that never puts a dollar ahead of a fan.

Social sharing is transforming the economics of marketing and has upended how consumers engage with brands to such a degree that established marketing structures and strategies, some argue, are obsolete. Yesterday, the funnel approach to focusing "paid-media" resources into building brand awareness and then desire at the point of purchase was a sound investment. Today CMOs know it requires a recalibration to where consumers are actively spending their time.

McKinsey research has shown that consumers do not systematically hone down their choices, but take a more recursive and less reductive approach. The customer journey has always been held in high regard, but the immediacy of social media and the explosion of digital touchpoints make a powerful argument for reassessing the impetus of marketing and brand thinking with earned media.

People forget words, but they will never forget the way you make them feel. We are what we think: 80% of decisions are influenced by "dormant" emotions in the subconscious. Doing the right thing in the name of timeless brand values is evident, but CMOs are understandably reticent that "movement marketing" with that kind of strategy is a race that is hard to win, because the finish line shifts with every move. Thus, the only noteworthy example I've found was Henkel's efforts to clean up the streets near Tahir Square.

Virtue is a stranger in this world and the "social sharing" consumer compels brands to be alert to their social responsibility more than ever. We've witnessed in recent years the birth of purpose-driven brands and a new "conscious commerce" business model -- where a brand can make money while doing good. We can all be persuasive about the inherent risks with movement marketing, but isn't it surely right to argue that brands' seemingly inexorable growth will necessitate a more prolific role in world events? It's often said never make forecasts, especially about the future, but brands must not cross an interval like we have in the world with a step when they can cross it with a leap -- with share of trust the needle to move north.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dean Crutchfield is an independent brand consultant.
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