Welcome to the Relationship Era. The Consumer Era — when brands researched what the public wanted, produced it, created alluring advertising, and positioned that advertising in targeted media markets — is over.
Brand ethos is replacing consumer-centered slogans (like L’Oreal’s “Because I’m worth it”). Look at Patagonia’s mission to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” or Krispy Kreme’s revamped “Touching and enhancing people’s lives through the joy that is Krispy Kreme.”
And it works. Patagonia’s last three and half years have been their best yet. After Krispy Kreme’s stocks plummeted $42 in 2006, the company looked inward and aligned every aspect of their enterprise with the joy ethic. They’re again steadily growing revenues and profits.
Why is the Consumer Era dead? Brands used to win business through mass advertising. But effective advertising has to be continuous — once the advertising stops, so do the sales. And continuous advertising is expensive, especially because mass advertising has lost its expansive reach.
So what is the new focus of marketing? Trust. People are not talking about your ad slogan. They’re talking about your brand’s essential self, about your core values. The most successful brands of the Relationship Era will be those brands that we trust and adore. Think Apple, Amazon, Costco, and Southwest Airlines.
Why does the public trust a brand? Honest and transparent practices, according to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer. Trust sells. We like authenticity.
So how do you market yourself in the Relationship Era? Take a cue from Patagonia and Krispy Kreme and identify why your company exists. Why are you in business? What is your corporate purpose and how do you convey that to the public?
Identify your brand’s core values and embrace them in everything you do. Don’t load up your mission statement with boilerplate buzzwords. Be authentic. This will build a foundation that commands loyalty and trust.
People will identify with the values they hear you express — and see you perform — and they’ll feel a powerful sense of belonging. People will continue to buy your brand. They will write positive reviews and Tweet about it and like you on Facebook. Those reviews and Tweets will be seen by new potential customers who will review and Tweet themselves. People will talk about your brand. Your consumer network will multiply and all because your brand is true to itself.