Brand As Community

When I started my career on Madison Avenue years ago, I learned very quickly that a company’s “brand” was their alfa and omega, and therefore untouchable. Meaning, if you attempted to alter it, revise it, or change it, even a smidge, it was “off with your head!”

I remember working on a print ad for Aer Lingus, the Irish airlines, and my boss gave the Art Director their logo for placement in the ad. The Art Director, being the creative guy he was, played around with it a bit, changing the size and position of the tag line. OMG! Call in the troops. That poor boy crossed a line with their brand guidelines and there was hell to pay.

Thankfully with the advent of social media, I have seen corporations slowly create some wiggle room around what a brand can and cannot do. Some progressive companies these days are loosening the corporate reins and actually inviting their customers to co-create with them. Imagine that? Listening to your beloved customers – and acting on it.

That’s Brand As Community. A term Devi Records coined after reading my Brand As Soul post last week.

So instead of a top-down, “this is the way it is” approach, these companies have opened the gates of their highly-guarded corporate identities and agendas, and let the people in. Not with a two-way mirror and a pizza at a focus group, but actual authentic dialogue and engagement. I personally love brands that do that. I interact with them more, buy from them more, and I even would go so far to say trust them more.

Colleague, Elsie Maio, tells a story of global giant, Unilever, that does just that by seeing their customers “as people” and not “consumers of transactions,” she says. So instead of a me agenda, they strive to create a we agenda.

For instance, Unilever transformed crowdsourcing into crowd partnering and hosted a 24-hour line of dialogue with 2,300 people in 70 plus countries. That effort resulted in the Wonderbag. An inexpensive, non-electric portable slow cooker that continues to cook food for up to 12 hours without the use of additional electricity or fuel. This wonder product not only reduces the cost of cooking for poorer communities but reduces the health risks of breathing in dangerous fumes. Created by entrepreneur and activist, Sarah Collins, and turbocharged by Unilever, the Wonderbag product delivered “extreme mutual value with society,” as Elsie put it. And to boot, the overall project was twice as successful as forecasted. That’s Brand as Community.

For Growstone, a start-up horticultural products company my company, Mind Over Markets, worked with for many years, we continually invited our community to give us feedback, and out of that birthed some amazing ideas for products. When looking to name a new product, our Facebook community chose “Gnat Nix” hands down for our non-toxic topical soil cover that guards your indoor plants from destructive gnats. We ran with it.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist said, “The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. And the practice can be carried out as a group, as a city, as a nation.” 

And may I add….as a brand.

So how do you create Brand As Community? How can you rally your customers and get closer to them than ever before? Here are some questions to ponder:

  • What shared purpose or passions do you have (or want to have) with your customers or clients?
  • What values are they looking for from your brand?
  • How can you become even more valuable to your customers to authentically deepen the connection?
  • What can you do that will make others appreciate what your brand has to offer as a whole?
  • What is an authentic, brand-relevant way to harness the power of social impact?
  • How can you communicate that authentically?           

Take some time to go deep with these. I promise the path will fruitful. If you need a little help, join Devi and I for our 1/2 day Deep Dive: Creating From Core: How to Get to the Soul of Your Brand and Connect with your Customers More Deeply Than Ever Before. 


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