Think Win-Win About Your Brand

Once upon a time, all you had to do to get customers was. . . SHOUT. The mass media acted as a one-way microphone and the objective was "awareness". Coca-Cola is a perfect example - a powerful global brand built on clear, unadulterated, awareness. It is difficult to imagine a better recognized brand icon.

Today, however, we have moved toward an Internet-defined model of communication as a two-way conversation. Authority is history and it no longer matters what you say but how your audiences perceive you. To control your brand you must understand, integrate, and manage those perceptions. Here,Nike is the example. Battling to keep its cool in the face of negative perceptions regarding its practices, the website is smothered with messages about the brand's sense of corporate social responsibility.

The basis of perception management is credibility. Awareness still matters but even more important is belief. You cannot tell people how to perceive your brand, nor can you control the context in which it competes. But you can control how trustworthy your brand is. Brands that make a highly focused and relevant promise, then deliver on it consistently, are credible.

However, today even credibility is not enough to create a truly powerful brand. Simply to say 'we will do x' and then do it is mediocre. Even branded experiences are becoming mediocre. In an interactive society people expect more, not only a one way promise but a two way promise,to benefit from the brands that benefit from them. In other words, to be super-credible, super-trustworthy, and ultimately truly commanding of consumer loyalty, brands must provide a win-win experience. Here are five ways to do so.

1. Incorporate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into the brand itself. Philanthropy is nice, but brand-building philanthropy communicates your message effectively while giving back to the community. If your brand centres on "fun," for example, you may want to sponsor programs that create fun experiences for those who can't ordinarily afford them.

2. Remember: "Employees Are Brands Too." More and more, organizations are recognizing the power of their employees (as well as contractors, freelancers, and temps) to build the brand. Successful organizational brands will invest in building the personal brands of the people who are engaged in building them. This can take the form of anything from concierge services, to coursework, customized workshops, and more.

3. Turn Loyal Customers Into "Brand Ambassadors." If you've done a good job of building customer relationships, there are greater potential benefits to be had than just "repeat business." At the simplest level, you can pay customers, clients, or others impressed with your product or service a finder's fee for referring others to you. If you dig deeper, you will likely find more ways to harness these relationships for mutual benefit. Who knows, today's loyal customer might be tomorrow's business partner!

4. Make Your Own Money. Today's tough economic climate means that consumers will need to be more resourceful about obtaining the things they need. Why not help them out while promoting your brand at the same time? Using "self-branded currency," you can allow consumers to do anything from exchanging labour for merchandise, to redeeming credits for customer referrals, to enjoying an incentive toward future purchases at partner brands. Internally, though money for financial bonuses might be tight, you can reward employees for outstanding work with non-monetary compensation - how about a coupon redeemable toward time off?

5. Connect People To Each Other. Particularly now, confronted with the threat of terrorism, an uncertain economic future, and the continuing automation of society overall, people seek a meaningful connection with others. Brands that go beyond self-interest to create those connections with learning circles, message boards, peer-to-peer networking, and more, will be the brands that people trust regardless of their specific product or service needs.

(c) 2002 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.