In Feels & Fields in Marketing, I had written about my view that the sustainable advantage in data driven marketing over the long term might be lesser than an approach where the brand is marketed as a worldview – reflected in thought and deed. A couple of nuances I’d like to point out here. One, the reason I feel so is because from the evolution of digital media thus far, the end game of new platforms/technologies arguably seem to be a version of a “cost per” arms race, and that end game is reached rather fast. Two, I don’t strictly see data and story telling as an either/or. It’s just that I don’t see a lot of justice being done to the latter thanks to the focus on the former, and I also see the dumbing down/tempering of messaging to access a larger mass.
However, I’ll admit that putting down ‘brand with a worldview’ into a generic framework is a rather challenging. But I have seen quite a few examples – personal experiences as well as larger campaigns – that highlight various aspects of this approach. The new POTUS has in fact, provided quite some fodder for this. Hardly surprising, since his usage of extreme stances contributed majorly to his victory.
Uber: The recent #DeleteUber campaign, triggered by the company’s response to a taxi strike at JFK airport that was protesting Trump’s immigration ban, showed a glimpse of how Uber is perceived by its customers. Lyft was even able to overtake Uber for the first time in daily app store downloads, though Uber tried some fire fighting by throwing money at the problem. This might have been a blip in the larger scheme of things, however, it mirrors my sentiment. If there was an app that could functionally match Uber, I would switch in a blinkbecause, thanks to conversations with drivers who aren’t treated very well, their callous attitude towards queries, and despite their very agile, local, cause based marketing campaigns, I am quite convinced that the brand’s worldview is “don’t care”.
Starbucks: When Starbucks took a stance and committed to hiring 10000 refugees worldwide, Trump followers began the #BoycottStarbucks campaign. Absolutely polarising stuff, as #DrinkStarbucks also gained momentum, and I saw blog posts such as this coming out in support of the brand. While it might have some repercussions in the short term, I feel the worldview will do more good than harm for the brand in the long run.
If you managed to see the Super Bowl 2017 ads, many of them had political stances either overtly or covertly – Budweiser, AirBnB, Google to name a few. (see) The interesting one though was 84 Lumber, a construction supplies company. Its original ad took a direct swipe at Trump’s Mexican wall but the NFL refused to run it and the company toned it down. But it didn’t end there. Their CEO walked back and not only claimed that it had nothing to do with politics but declared support for Trump’s policy! In terms of worldview, starting a fight you can’t finish is probably worse than not having a stance.
I find these particularly interesting because the stance is related to politics. Society at large has a keener interest because it the brand is actually making a judgment on their voting choices and these actions could potentially have a political impact. There is more column space and interest in this than say, and environmental or worker condition stance. That also means polarisation which would have both immediate and far reaching impact on brand health, revenue etc. A Havas research shows that users want brands to “help on big social issues” (slide 44). The same study shows national identity as a very important consumer sentiment. (slide 15) However, there are nuances and examples in the US that show that many people do not want political lessons from their brands. (Racked has an excellent read on this)
If I try to be objective about this, I think what all this does reiterate is that in our consumption, we are largely irrational creatures, and absolutely prone to confirmation biases. We’d love our brands to echo our world view. Once upon a time, brand research used to be restricted to activity and perceptions/perspectives in the domain. But the worlds are colliding. Smart money would be on brands that can use data to glean consumer sentiment beyond domain, and leverage that understanding when forming a world view.