Whereas the traditional playbook for building a brand is defined by the marketing funnel, i.e., awareness, consideration, purchase, loyalty and advocacy, this may not be the fastest or most effective way to attract Millennials as well as the rest of us. In fact, the traditional marketing funnel is rather upside down and in the wrong order for today's largest and most influential consumers.
Here's a hypothesis.
It's possible for brands to skip the line from awareness to advocacy, before you even sell a product.
How is this done? Through a poignant narrative; one that is based on values, principles and is told as a touching emotional story.
I recently attended an event at the NYU School of Social Entrepreneurship titled "The Role of Brands in Empowering Citizens of A New Era". Among the panelists were representatives from the ACLU, Virgin Unite, NYC Economic Development Corporation, and KIND (maker of the eponymous bars). While the bulk of the panel discussed how brands are taking on an unprecedented leadership role in society, there was another, different "aha" moment there for marketers.
Amidst the discussion of Tim Cook's support for LGBT rights, Lyft's $1M donation to the ACLU earlier this year, and KIND's narrative about the founder's father's Holocaust survival story, one thing became clear:
Consumers will advocate for brands even before buying them.
Case in point. A young man I met at this event said that he never before considered buying KIND (in fact he'd never heard of them), but after hearing the founder's story, he said he'd tell his friends about it and intended to buy the brand. He moved from awareness to advocacy in an instant. This may be representative of how consumers interact with brands in our era.
In my own case, I never liked the Lyft mustache logo and it was one of the reasons I hesitated to use the brand (it seemed creepy to me as a female rider). But once I heard the founder's story on NPR's podcast "How I Built This" I was hooked. The fact that they wanted to help by reducing the impact to the environment, they were Cornell students, and it grew within college campuses. I made an effort to use Lyft from then on, and now even more so, for well publicized reasons.
There is even some evidence to back this up. According to Jim Stengel in his book Grow, "brands that centered their businesses on the ideal of improving people’s lives resonate more with consumers—and outperform their category competitors."
So next time you are considering your marketing strategy and brand purpose and positioning, first think of your roots and whether you have a truly poignant and compelling narrative. Because if you do, you need to make it your first priority to weave it in to your story and share it as much as possible. The results will be well worth it.
Sandra Creamer has spent her career focused on business transformation. She's worked at Fortune 100 technology companies, a top CPG company, and several NYC based consulting firms, doing branding, marketing and innovation for many recognizable brands. In her spare time, Sandra teaches at Columbia University in the MS Program for Applied Analytics.