Think of your closest friend(s). Your initial connection may have been tentative and tenuous – forced to sit together at school, an overheard comment at work that made you laugh, a random conversation on a night out. You may not have even liked them at first.
Over the years, however, the friendship deepened. You found out more about each other, you found common ground. You had similar sensibilities. Later still you shared moments of joy, moments of pain, memories. The superficial relationship you had initially became deep rooted, and their lives gradually became indelibly linked to yours.
While a brand relationship can never replicate these authentic human interactions (however much marketing bods would like to believe they can), they still need to attempt to tap into these basic facets of human nature – altruism, empathy, compassion, love.
In B2B, a customer’s relationship with your brand is defined by whether they like you and what you do. And a big part of this is in demonstrating what your company stands for in everything you do.
To explain what I mean here are a couple of examples of large, well-known companies who I think are doing it well.
Remember the joys of playing with Lego as a kid? I think my single biggest achievement as a child (of which there was many, of course) was building a Lego football stadium. It remains one of my greatest accomplishments.
But aside from being a fantastic toy, Lego has built a reputation as an incredible brand. Not by saying they are, by doing the right things.
In a 2016 interview, Jennifer DuBuisson, Lego’s senior manager of environmental sustainability revealed to Forbes that the company received a letter from a nine-year-old child that read “When I grow up, I want my kids to grow up in a healthy world.” Off the back of that, the Danish brand launched its ‘Build the Change’ campaign which comprises a series of events across the globe that gives children a voice to tackle the various issues that they face.
To me, this is a great example of a company that truly cares about their audience, demonstrating it with action not words. Yes, the parents buy the product, but it’s the children that use it – the same nine-year-olds as the one who wrote them a letter. For a company that reaches close to 100 million children in 140 countries, it’s important for them to put children first, and this campaign is just one example of them doing just that. And, of course, it’s a message that resonates positively with the parents, too.
Of course, you can argue these initiatives exist to simply ‘sell more bricks’, but in my eyes the positive publicity they will get from this initiative is a well-deserved by-product. If it’s just an attempt to boost sales then what a way to do it!
The Soap Co.
The Soap Co. describes itself as a ethical luxury brand within the beauty sector, and their ethos of social and environmental sustainability is at the heart of everything they do.
Their commitment to a social mission is reflected in the diversity of their workforce. As an equal opportunities employer, The Soap Co. welcomes those with disabilities, as well as individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.
They work closely with their parent company CLARITY Employment for Blind People, who provide training, support and employment to those with visual impairments. They also use their employees as inspiration for their products, with braille on the front of their packaging and a range of dog shampoos have been developed with the employee’s guide dogs in mind.
The Soap Co. use environmental friendly ingredients and packaging whenever possible, and are not shy about letting their customer’s know this. Their ingredients consist of only natural botanicals and pure essential oils, are are bottled in containers made partially from old milk cartons. Customers are encouraged feel good about what they are buying, their Christmas hashtag campaign #GiveGoodGifts and their Black Friday campaign #GreenIsTheNewBlack emphasise the positivity around changing purchasing habits.
This brand acknowledges the benefits selling ethical products has for their marketing strategy, within the luxury market consumers are able and willing to pay a little more, with the knowledge that they are contributing to a good cause.
The Soap Co.’s commitment to a broad range of ethical practices far outweighs the efforts of their competitors and promoting this has become the central focus of their content. Their honesty and transparency about ingredients and working practices is what draws customers in.
We get it… social responsibility is good, Marc. But what’s your point?
My point is that nowadays pretty much every large corporation has a sizable CSR initiative and it’s an area of their business that they’re looking to expand. However, with many smaller companies who are doing well but are still at humble beginnings a lot of their marketing effort still focuses on the selling of their product.
Why shouldn’t the heart of company’s marketing efforts be the good that they are doing to satisfy what their audiences hold dear, above and beyond the features and benefits of their products? Maybe your marketing focus of the year should be what does your target audience truly care about and how can you do something beyond delivering an awesome product and service to show to them that you hold their needs dear and don’t just want their cash.
In my eyes, this focus will change the conversation with prospects and help your company to become a friend of your audience, which satisfies the key principles of them liking and trusting you so they will use your services. Once they’ve decided they want to work with you then your communications turn to what your service delivers, the results you get and how your service can solve the problems your audience is facing.
Seek friendship first and then the sale
What I would encourage you to do is to go into your next planning meeting and ask the question ‘What can we do to get our audience to like us’, rather than ‘what can we do to double our turnover next year’. Once you crack the ‘friendship’ factor the welcome by-product would be hitting the growth goals you desire.