Building a Generous Brand

Why Brands Should Add Value to Consumers' Lives

By Published on .

John King
John King

Brands have evolved past the baseline of trust and awareness; now they must learn how to give, says John King, director of brand innovation for Fallon. Here's how.

A planner friend of mine had this great line about a year ago: "I'm so over messages," she said. Aren't we all; aren't we all.

As the industry continues to plod away from messages, ads and interruptions and move toward ideas, involvement and experiences, Fallon has committed to a modern branding approach called "generosity." We believe the future belongs to generous brands. Generous brands are additive to people's lives and to culture. They help build ideas in the world; they leave something behind.

Generosity is about providing value in the life of the consumer: entertainment value, social value and belief value. Generosity isn't a new idea. In fact, it's a really, really old idea. Gift theory was the reason ancient kings used to bestow gifts on the people. The rule of reciprocity held true then just as much as it does today. Generosity makes the gift giver look royal and as important, the people who received the gift feel obligated to repay what another provided.

We've found generosity works just as well on the street as in the castle. In some ways, all brands are standing on the corner begging for attention. There are two ways to do it: You can focus on the old model and fill your cardboard sign with a supply-side sob story ("Broke, out-of-work veteran"). Or you can take a more generous approach: singing a song, making people smile or opening a door. Brands must learn that empty pockets will never earn as much as the empty guitar case. Until brands push past rational selling and start more consistently providing people with ideas, emotions and actions, they should expect the consumer to avoid eye contact and walk right by.

Make no mistake, generosity isn't charity or cause marketing. While the recent economic woes have made mercy marketing the norm, with Hyundai's brilliant assurance idea leading the way, generosity is broader in concept. Sometimes, it's about entertainment value. Cadbury's decision to put joy into the world in the form of a gorilla and a Phil Collins song -- instead of ramming joy into another chocolate ad -- is generous. Alpo's decision to start a movement to restore "dogness" to dogs was a way to connect with common-sense dog owners who shared the belief value that "dogs should be dogs." And General Mills' decision to place Box Tops for Education on all its products (and the products of its competitors, by the way) provides social value.

John King is director of brand innovation for Fallon.

Branding has evolved past the baseline of trust and awareness. It's not enough to get people to say or think, "I know you, so I'll buy from you." Modern branding is about actually letting the audience share ownership of your brand, and generosity is the path that gets you there. Google, Red Bull and Obama have already learned your brand reaches the highest speeds when you give your audience the keys. Like the king in the castle and the beggar on the street, it's time brands start to learn to give as much as they take.

Five Tips for Building a More Generous Brand

1. Oh, behave!
Today, even the brand that finds itself in the sacred top-right quadrant of the account-planner-positioning chart may find itself sitting in a silk-lined rut. To be successful today requires pushing past positioning toward behavior. Generous brands behave; they do things for people. It's not enough today to know what celebrity your brand would be at the party; instead, we should be asking ourselves what we want our brand legacy to be. What would our brand do if diagnosed with just one year to live? The first step toward being a generous brand is to carefully define the idea we're trying to build in the world, then determine the actions we must take to get there. And that means change for us. Brand behavior requires creative people who can build ideas with broad shoulders; account and connection planners determined to reveal human truth; media people who want to make things more than they want to buy things; and account people who believe the product of an agency is far more than just advertising.

2. Uncover the value equation
Like any branding approach, it all starts with audience. There's a reason "It's the thought that counts" is the golden rule of gift giving. Getting to the thought -- and ultimately a more generous approach -- requires a brand to get out there and make time to understand what its audience wants from it. While this may sound daunting, consider a simple research exercise we often use called "Ask/Thank." When interviewing consumers, we've found it helpful to start by having them ask the brand for three things and thank the brand for three things. We've found their answers provide an excellent glimpse into the existing value equation for the brands we work on.

3. Get on their schedule
Marketers are used to schedules. We have too many, but the real problem is that our schedules and calendars are built around business, brand and category norms, not around how the consumer is living his or her life. It's only going to become more difficult for brands to fit consumers onto their marketing schedule. Instead, brands should try a more generous approach, taking the time to know and understand what's going on in the audience's lives while determining the best way to fit. Brands today should take cues from Google's ever-changing home page, asking how they can participate on St. Patrick's Day or Election Day instead of brainstorming ideas to "Drive sales in Q3!" -- a concept that has no relevance on the consumer calendar.

4. Slippy digital
If the microsite isn't dead, it just drove away on a crotch rocket wearing a windbreaker and no helmet. Digital is no longer about investing in sticky online real estate and expecting the audience to come to us. Brands today need to move away from building the big online house with curb appeal. A generous approach to digital has more parallels with putting a piece of old furniture in your front yard with a "free" sign on it. The most impactful digital experiences today are designed to create portable, slippy content that allows people to take your brand places. A great piece of film that can be added to people's social sites and played on any number of screens will be far more effective than building an online destination. Generous brands go where the people are online, not the other way around.

5. Take a bigger role
Every brand has a choice: Be stingy or be generous. A stingy brand chooses to focus entirely on product information, asking the consumer to walk up and knock on its door. A generous brand chooses to take a bigger role in the consumer's life, opening the doors and windows and providing shared ownership. It wasn't that long ago that the business of advertising was to create ideas about brands. For a car company, that meant you were limited to selling things like "fastest," "safest" or "cheapest." Brands today have permission -- if not an obligation -- to take a bigger role and start seeing those lines on the flow chart not as spots and dots of message delivery but as the building blocks of an idea in the world. The generous brand has a much bigger cupboard to draw from. We're now in the business of building brands about ideas. And that means a car company can sell fun, a soda company can bottle optimism and a chocolate company can make joy. For us, it means advertising just might be able to change the world.

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