Embrace transparency. Trust needs to be earned. Providing insight into how you work, including your supply chain, policies, and all of the stories behind what makes you who you are, makes a difference. Southwest Airlines saw an opportunity with its 2015 “Transfarency” campaign that showcased the brand as one consumers could trust for no hidden fees. Chobani has done a great job at becoming known as an honest and authentic brand, not only because the company’s CEO is known for his commitment to humanitarian issues (although that helps!), but also for initiatives like bringing the fair trade label to dairy. They have proven they are in the consumers’ corner.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Mary Noel, Business Development Director of DoSomething Strategic, a social impact consultancy. Starting from a core belief that there is massive potential at the intersection of positive social good and smart business growth, Mary helps clients identify opportunities to reach young people in ways that are authentic and impactful. Prior to joining DoSomething Strategic, Mary led strategy and growth efforts for mission-driven tech startups Andela and Zocdoc.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started out my career pursuing the non-profit/NGO space as I initially thought that was the only way for me to impact positive social change on the issues I cared most about. I was able to work at the United Nations and did a year with Americorps, but soon found myself immersed in a new world of tech start-ups who were baking mission and purpose into their core and I was extremely intrigued. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and for me this was the best of both worlds: I can do good and have the challenge of helping to grow a self-sustaining business. Throughout my time working in the start-up space I always found my myself dipping my toes into the storytelling component of both the product and the purpose to drive growth. Good marketing has such an incredible power to tap into the core of the human experience to spark action — from a small conversation that plants a seed to a major shake-up of the status quo that changes a behavior for the long haul. When I came across DoSomething Strategic, it was all of my interests and passions in one: we’re taking brand purpose and cause marketing to a new level by helping other brands and organizations activate young consumers and employees in a whole new way.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our expertise on young people and purpose is truly unparallelled. As the social impact consultancy arm of DoSomething.org, we leverage 25+ years of driving action along with a proprietary behavioral database of over 5 million young people ages 13–25 to provide insights brands can’t get access to elsewhere. We also have an incredible team of strategists with the extra superpower of the real-time youth insights at DoSomething.org. I just came from a brainstorm for a client project we’re working on where 12 members of the DoSomething.org team joined to share their learnings from a campaign that just wrapped. The ideas that were shared were rooted in learnings from how they doubled engagement on the exact issue our client is looking to target. We’re not only staying on the pulse on every detail of who young people are and what they care about, but we’re also tapped into an organization testing and trialing youth activation 24/7.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re thrilled to be on the heels of bringing to life a strategy we developed for The Wilderness Society to activate young people around the Arctic Refuge this Fall. The threats to the Arctic, the animals and the people who live there, are increasing in number and severity every day. Yet for most of us, the Arctic is quite far removed and not something we’re likely to travel to in our lifetimes. We’ve created an immersive pop-up experience where people will get to experience the Arctic Refuge firsthand, truly bringing it to life to spark a new level of advocacy. We’ve teamed up with an incredible mixed reality technology company to make this experience unlike any other and use the power of IRL to drive collective action. It’s all about taking an issue that can be hard to comprehend and making it actionable with smaller, more manageable milestones that allow our audience to engage in meaningful increments and feel a sense of pride and progress in joining a community of people protecting our most precious resources.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Branding is truly about your identity — it’s who you are and what you stand for. Your brand is what inspires people to want to be associated with you and wear your logo with pride on a t-shirt. It’s the big picture while advertising is more of a concrete action to influence behavior among a certain target audience. Advertising gets your product or service in front of the right people in order to persuade them to buy it, but the branding is the magic — often fueling more of the why behind that decision than advertising alone.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Brands are powerful. They can charge 20x more for arguably the same quality product, and people will still buy it because of the brand name. But they also have incredible power to create communities and activate people to change. Why? Because people trust brands, and trust builds consumer loyalty that fuels growth, beyond any particular product or service. That’s why most acquisitions are always for the brand itself, because it’s the brand that holds the value. Building a brand is more important now than ever, not only because of increasing competition and need for differentiation, but because the role of the brand has grown incredibly. According to Edelman research people now trust brands more than governments to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Consumers expect more of brands today, but they also see a brand as a way to express their own identity and who they want to be. Even with the best advertising, a particular product will have a hard time getting to that level without the force of a brand.
Can you share 5 strategies that a large company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Stand for something. Our 2019 Brands Taking Stands Survey found 66% of young consumers say a brand’s association with a social cause or platform positively impacts their overall impression of a brand; and 58% say this association is a positive driver of their likelihood to purchase. Again, today’s consumers expect brands to stand for something — staying silent on key issues is no longer an option and it means more than covering your bases with a CSR report. Ben & Jerry’s has built an incredible purpose-driven brand focused on everything from getting money out of politics to racial justice. What does this have to do with ice cream? Nothing besides a clever headline Keep the Dough In Ice Cream, Take it Out of Democracy. But they know that consumers demand more from brands today and they are building purpose into the fabric of their business, looking to their employees to tell them what issues are most important to them.
- Live it inside out: Speaking of employees, your team members are your strongest brand ambassadors. If they aren’t actively engaged in your brand purpose, it’s a wasted opportunity (on top of a red flag re: trust!). This is more than one company sponsored volunteer-day, it’s about elevating their voices and providing them a myriad of ways to get involved. Levi’s stance on gun violence largely originated from the concern of retail employees. The brand spoke up publicly but also focused on ways to support employee involvement, as well. On the most basic level, you need to ensure you are walking the walk. If you are externally promoting a message like mental health, but not providing adequate mental health services for your team, you need to get your house in order first.
- Be consistent. Trust is built over time, and truly building a relationship with consumers takes the long view. This is more than standing for something one time and being done with it, you have to show up again and again to prove that you mean what you say and stay top of mind in a crowded and noisy space. Our latest survey found an average of only 12% of consumers had “top of mind” associations between a brand and purpose. In order to be known for something AND for it to be believable, you need to get the word out and stay true. Dove has stayed laser-focused on its commitment to raise self-esteem and body confidence, from its 2004 “Real Beauty” campaign to its latest “#ShowUs” effort to build the world’s largest stock photo library that shatters beauty stereotypes. And young consumers have taken note — an impressive 53% of respondents associate Dove with body positivity, which is among the highest associations with a single cause area across all the brands we surveyed.
- Embrace transparency. Trust needs to be earned. Providing insight into how you work, including your supply chain, policies, and all of the stories behind what makes you who you are, makes a difference. Southwest Airlines saw an opportunity with its 2015 “Transfarency” campaign that showcased the brand as one consumers could trust for no hidden fees. Chobani has done a great job at becoming known as an honest and authentic brand, not only because the company’s CEO is known for his commitment to humanitarian issues (although that helps!), but also for initiatives like bringing the fair trade label to dairy. They have proven they are in the consumers’ corner.
- Build community. Spotify’s recent culture report found 62% of Gen Z and Millennials believe brands have the power to create community based on shared interests and passions. Being part of a collective is much less risky than being out on your own, but it also taps into the fundamental human need to belong. It not only keeps consumers committed to the brand but also gets more people to join in — #FOMO is still powerful. Direct-to-Consumer beauty brand Glossier is one example of incredible scale achieved by leveraging the power of community. Not only does the brand lean into elevating their biggest fans as brand ambassadors but they empower the community to collaborate and help inform the creation of the products they make. People feel an integral part of the brand itself and the peer-to-peer sharing is the secret behind the majority of Glossier’s growth.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and LUSH are all top of this list for me because they all have been bold and authentic when it comes to building purpose into the core of their business. For them, doing good isn’t an afterthought, a solitary campaign, or a nice to have — purpose is integral to who they are and how they approach their business. They’ve not only been consistent at proving their values again and again, they also invite consumers to be a part of it and are in it for impact, not profit. Even though the profits have certainly come along with it as consumers are increasingly eager for purpose-driven brands, there is more to it than the desire to sell more stuff. The five points above are the key to replicating this, but it starts with recognizing purpose isn’t a trend.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
Sales are certainly an indicator of success, but brand building can often be a more long term view. An Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage (AAU) Study is great to run pre- and post-campaign to see how people’s perceptions of your brand have increased over time. Social listening allows you to tap into conversations around your brand and ensure a strong understanding of brand sentiment, while earned media, web traffic, and social media mentions are all important indicators to track for lift. Net Promoter Score is also a key metric as the branding should help increase the likelihood of your consumers to recommend you.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media is a great way to get the voice of your brand out there and make a connection with consumers, when done right. Wendy’s is a great example, as they’ve become famous a witty social media profile that has injected personality into the brand. Three must-dos: post meaningful content, have a clear point of view, and establish your voice. Consumers want to feel they are interacting with a real person behind an account — having a clearly defined persona is a key to connection. When it comes to social media, we focus on how we can best meet young people where they are. This requires understanding how they are using these platforms and their expectations around how brands should engage them, as it certainly isn’t a one size fits all and requires getting creative. One other key thing about social media is to recognize how it’s redefined transparency and raised the bar on what it means to establish trust with consumers — not something to overlook.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
It’s the basics but get intentional about placing a value on your energy: don’t skimp on sleep, move your body every day, eat food that nourishes you, ensure to consciously unplug and recharge for both inspiration and perspective. Also, surround yourself with good people!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Let’s go for a kindness revolution. What if everyone took the challenge to not let a day go by without intentionally doing an act of kindness for a different person each day? It could be something as small as buying the coffee for the person behind you in line, or writing a ‘thinking of you’ card to send to your grandmother. Sounds small, but just might be an easy way to spark the most amount of good for the most amount of people by getting us a bit more unstuck on ourselves and seeing each other with a bit more empathy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorites that has stuck with me is Anna Quindlen’s 2000 commencement speech. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but if I had to pick one: “Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live… This is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get.”
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Brené Brown! #Shero
Thank you for all of these great insights!