Here at This is Milk, we’re fond of busting some myths every now and then. Here's one from a Harvard Business Review article to shake up some assumptions you may have about what your customers want from your brand: what matters most for your customers is not how much you engage with them, but whether or not they share important values with your brand.
Many marketers tend to run according to the principle of 'more is more', but this is not an effective way of encouraging brand loyalty. Customers are susceptible to information overload. We are all getting bombarded by hundreds of messages every day – why would your brand stand out by simply adding to the torrent?
If you want customers to feel a connection with your brands, you have to show that you share something important with them – their ideologies, beliefs, and feelings about what matters most to them. "Of the consumers in our study who said they have a brand relationship, 64% cited shared values as the primary reason", as the Harvard Business Review article states. You need to clearly communicate your brand's core philosophy in order to reach out to those customers who will identify with it.
At This is Milk, we knew this from the get-go. In our previous blog post about how we chose our name, we described how this all came down to the values we wanted to represent. For us, that circled around adjectives like accessible, aspirational, and authentic. However, brand values are just words and pictures until you practice and prove them in everything that you do, only then can you build trust and relationships with customers.
So how do you show what you stand for?
By far the easiest way to do this is to demonstrate what you don't stand for. In our blog post, we wrote a bit about our thoughts around this when searching for our brand identity:
"We also looked at what we didn’t want to be, and how we wanted to set ourselves apart from our competitors. The competitive landscape was clogged with ‘men in grey suits’ with fairly meaningless names (in our opinion)"
We wanted to be a refreshing, colourful alternative in the sea of grey suits. So what are the ways a brand can show what they are not?
Many (like this article from HelpScout) argue that brands should be bold about this. It's not just about identifying what you want to set yourself apart from – you need to make an enemy! Think back on the 1984 Apple advertisements. As the HelpScout article describes:
"You may remember the clear picture that Apple painted of Windows’ users — they were unhip, corporate drones that loved boring beige-shaded boxes and Excel spreadsheets. Conversely, Apple was the cool, savvy product for young people doing creative work and fighting the system."
Who's the real enemy?
There's no doubt that this helped to fuel Mac customers' (sometimes quite fervent) loyalty to Apple. The 'enemy' strategy makes a lot of psychological sense. We humans tell stories that are all about conflict and tension, with clear heroes and villains. Our brains like polarity and clarity. There's little room for grey. In order for your brand to stand out, the advice goes, you need to stop being afraid of painting it in black and white.
Often, people have one of two responses at this suggestion: they either go on board with it with a little too much enthusiasm, or they become apprehensive. The latter is probably more common. All this talk of enemies feels too much, too confrontational, too aggressive (and perhaps even a bit too American?). It's easy to see how this can go too far and become unprofessional.
Not so, say the enthusiasts. The key issue to keep in mind is that most of us are not Apple and cannot afford to call out competitors directly. In fact, that's not really what 'making enemies' is about. Your enemies are not your competitors, but the ideas and values that go against your purpose as a brand. Something that your brand opposes, finds unacceptable, unjust, or just unappealing. For Apple, those values are boredom and conformity. For you, it might be unapproachability, convoluted processes, unfriendly user interfaces, or unwillingness to change.
For us, those enemy values might be defined as 'sameness', just being one more grey suit in the crowd. We'd also say we take a stand against not being responsive to the client's needs, against one-size-fits-all.
Is this useful?
Thinking about this strategy made us wonder if 'enemy' is really a useful term for brands. The word 'enemy' invokes an image of a person, someone painted as wholly bad. It may tempt brands to go too personal and start taking jabs at competitors.
Moreover, we think it's not ideal to dwell too much on what you are not, as opposed to what you are. This can be a tricky balance to strike – you want to differentiate yourself and show how you're special, but you can't just point at all the values, practices, and processes that you don't believe in like items on a checklist, saying 'this we don't do, that we don’t like’. You're still not giving anyone an actual reason to pick you. Instead, you're giving away your time in the spotlight to your 'enemies'!
A better way to frame it is in terms of problem-solving. You can use your 'enemies' as examples of problems in your industry, and then presenting yourself as a solution to the problem. Then, you can go straight into the positive stuff, and show your customers everything that your brand has to offer.
So, in summary...
- Your brand needs to demonstrate that it stands for the same values as your customers
- You can do this by showing what values your brand opposes
- But don't go too far! Know what your real enemy is – the values that go against the purpose of your brand. Most of all, your enemy is being forgettable.