There has been a fundamental shift toward ‘behaviour brands’. These are brands that do things – they craft meaningful, engaging experiences with customers to express their points of view and places in the world. In an age of brand skepticism, these companies are helping to make brands matter once again.
Looking back on 2015, it’s clear that some brands are leaders as ‘brands that do’. and others act in ways that earn them the title of ‘brands that didn’t’. The latter missed opportunities to engender meaningful connections with customers. Here, we highlight brands that emerged as heads of the pack, as well as those that still have work to do in 2016.
In 2015, it seemed as if successful brands not only spoke to their values but took action – some for the very first time! Corporations let down their guards to behave like people and better connect with the communities they serve.
Brands That Did
1. Movement Mortgage: While big banks retreat from the mortgage loan sector, new heroes are cropping up to fill the gap – but they aren’t banks. Nonbank lenders such as Movement Mortgage provide quick, personal service to customers, promising to close loans in just 8 days. Also, by investing in local community centres and schools, Movement lives their belief that a healthy community is made up of more than homeowners.
2. Whole Foods: Putting its money where its mouth is, Whole Foods is investing in local farmers that support the brand’s mission to provide sustainable, locally sourced goods. Its Local Producer Loan Program is providing up to $25 million in low-interest loans to independent farmers and artisans. While this is likely good business, it also puts faces and names to the creators of the supermarket’s products.
3. Adidas: Adidas took a big risk by taking a stance on a divisive racial issue – but it paid off. The brand decided it would offer financial support to any U.S. high school that changed its logo or mascot “from potentially harmful Native American imagery or symbolism”. This move was lauded by the likes of President Obama, who said, “I don’t know if Adidas made the same offer to a certain NFL team here in Washington…but they might want to think of that as well.”
4. Phillips: Philips lived up to its claim of ‘innovator’. Through the Living Lab, Phillips launched two major social experiments: Bringing light to playgrounds in Uppsala, Sweden and creating a “Breathless Choir” for people with limited lung capacity. Marked results, such as better sleep, study and health for the children of Uppsala, show that Philips’s actions create real impact and demonstrate innovation, not just claim it.
5. REI: During a holiday season that has become less about family and more about snagging deals, REI decided to close all its stores on Black Friday. Instead, it is supporting outdoor excursions for its employees. Not only does this exemplify the value REI places in its employees, but this action brings to life the REI brand -- commitment to the benefit of life lived in the outdoors.
Brands That Didn’t
1. Airbnb: Airbnb dealt with allegations of racism against prospective customers, legal ramifications of fatal incidents occurring at host properties, and pressure from municipalities that want to tax the company much as they do traditional hotels. In reaction to this last pressure, Airbnb (poorly) decided to launch a campaign targeting organisations that need funding the most: “Dear Public Library System: We hope you use some of the $12MM in hotel taxes to keep the library open later. Love, Airbnb.” Ads like these, posted on bus stops around the Bay Area, resulted in backlash – this passive aggressive advertising reflects that the company is no longer invincible and the envy of the ‘sharing economy’ industry.
2. Volkswagen: Volkswagen built its brand on the premise that it’s good for both customers and the environment, yet its recent struggles revealed that its engines were, in fact, failing both. Such bold and erroneous claims regarding the performance of emissions tests put a huge dent in its previously pristine reputation as a brand that led the way for a new generation of environmental responsibility.
3. Yahoo: Though this Silicon Valley giant has gained recognition, as of late it seems that’s all it has. While its competitors have become increasingly innovative at integrating themselves into the fabric of users’ lives, Yahoo has remained fairly one-dimensional, failing to incite two-way engagement. Yahoo should look to Facebook, which during the recent events in Paris, embodied the role of a concerned family member allowing users to know if friends in Paris were safe.
4. Gap: From the Hunter flagship to Burberry in London, savvy retail brands are transforming their brick and mortars into showrooms, leveraging unexpected areas of the store to express brand DNA. These brands craft full-on sensory experiences that embody attributes of the brand’s ethos. At Hunter, collages and imagery of natural terrain are posted on the store’s surfaces (even in elevators and dressing rooms!), offering reminders of the instances in which the brand can come in handy. By contrast, Gap’s stores look much like they did decades ago – preserving a nostalgic Americana aesthetic but failing to translate it into engaging experiences that delight customers. The company has the potential (and means!) to reshape retail, yet it has done too little to position itself as cutting-edge.
5. Amazon: Company culture has become something that is as externally visible as it is internally valued. The ways in which a company is managed reflects the values of its brand. The backlash following the New York Times article indicting Amazon’s less-than-supportive work culture demonstrates that customers care more than ever that the companies with which they do business treat their employees ethically.
With the new demand that companies must take action comes a new set of rules for behaviour brands. CMOs and their teams in 2016 need to:
1. Exhibit brand actions as opposed to talking about brand promises
2. Shift from static communications to engines of engagement
3. Behave authentically both internally and externally
4. Focus on rich, designed experiences and content
5. Transition from thought leadership to action leadership
Susan Machtiger is President, Brand & Marketing Strategy at OgilvyRED