Friday, October 14, 2011

From I to Them to We: The Revolution of Brand Engagement

There is a real revolution going on right now among serious branding organizations. It's popping up everywhere, from many of the presentations at Brand Manage Camp (which I attended a couple weeks ago in Vegas) to yesterday's Harvard Business Review blog by Howard Schultz, President and CEO of Starbucks.

It goes like this, to borrow a key quote from the Schultz blog: "It is no longer enough to serve customers, employees, and shareholders. As corporate citizens of the world, it is our responsibility - our duty - to serve the communities where we do business by helping to improve, for example, the quality of citizens' education, employment, health care, safety, and overall daily life, plus future prospects."

From BP to Walmart, Starbucks to Southwest, the most well known branding companies have implemented Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to either support reputation management or improve on their reputation capital. And it's not only good for our world - it's good for business. Studies show that these types of initiatives increase employee satisfaction and retention, enhance customer loyalty, and build market share. Why? Because people want to be associated with brands that have a soul.

Brand communications programs used to be about "I." The product, service, or company - with the absolute goal of differentiation and market share. Some of the most memorable brands and slogans have come out of this period. Marketers then began to conduct more research and account planners voiced their ideas that brands need to be about "them" - the customer; their needs, ambitions, and emotions. After all, isn't this where a brand lives in the first place - the hearts and minds of your customers.

Now, it's about "we" - as a world, a society, a community. At Brand Manage Camp, I heard Simon Mainwaring speak about "We First," his new best-selling book about how brands use social media to build a better world. Guy Kawasaki spoke about "Enchantment," his new book about the art of changing hearts, minds, and actions through engagement. My friend, Steve Yastrow, author and consultant is out there working with companies on the concept of "We - The Ideal Customer Relationship" from his most recent book.

Is it really a revolution? While it seems like this concept is occurring overnight, it's actually been an astute strategy from leading brands for years. The trick, however, is to implement CSR with brand differentiation in mind. A friend and client, Paul Szablowski - V.P., Marketing at Catholic Healthcare West in Arizona said recently of a current project we're working on, "I don't want to just categorically raise consciousness (about the subject). Yes, I want people's minds and hearts to act, but let's get them to act on behalf of our brand." Well said! It's one thing to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, it's another to get them to rally together around Coca-Cola.

Hospitals and healthcare organizations are perfectly positioned to take on community-based initiatives beyond the usual walks, runs, and education events. As integral members of the community, your brand - in addition to helping people fight for their lives - should be helping fight for a better lifestyle.

It is about we. And countless case studies and research reports reinforce the theory of "win-win." Not only can corporate responsibility strategies help improve the world, they can improve your brand performance. Now go teach the world to sing!

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand development and communications firm with offices in the Chicago and D.C. areas. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at

1 comment:

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