As originally published in Forbes
One of the most costly consequences of doing business in such a crowded, noisy and fragmented marketplace is that it’s almost impossible to keep track of the big picture. Specifically, it’s extremely difficult to identify where the market is headed and how those changes will positively or negatively affect you business. Three threats are certain, however, and while they are each dangerous to your business, together they are potentially fatal. Here’s why.
1. COMPOUNDING GLOBAL SOCIAL CRISES: Thanks to the web, social media and smart phones, more people are better informed than ever as to the challenges our planet and societies face. These include climate change, loss of biodiversity, disparity of wealth, obesity, lack of access to clean water, healthcare costs, and the list goes on. While each of these crises has a very real and tragic impact on the lives of so many, they also threaten your business for one very specific reason. As these issues compound and make the experience of life more acute for more people, companies will increasingly be viewed as either part of the solution or problem. For example, soda or fast food companies will be held responsible for issues as far ranging as obesity, healthcare costs and access to clean water, while all companies will be held accountable for their environmental impact or treatment of workers. The issue for you, then, becomes how to authentically position your brand on the right side of social needs so that individuals and your customer community want to see you succeed. This is both risk mitigation and reputation enhancement, both of which are required in an increasingly competitive marketplace in which customers are demanding greater social responsibility from brands.
2. FAST-CHANGING SOCIAL TECHNOLOGIES: One need only look at the variety of screens in our lives, the myriad social channels we can choose from, and the amount of time we spend on our computers and smartphones to know that marketing is more complex than ever. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the key challenge is not keeping up with this technology but rather defining a clear and consistent brand story that transcends whatever technology or media is commanding attention. Yet too many companies are either undefined, schizophrenic or rushing past the ‘story’ to the ‘telling’ leaving their customers with no compelling reason to buy, recommend or stay loyal to your brand. Only when you enlist these ever-changing technologies in the service of a story that makes your company meaningful and relevant to your customers’ lives, will the power of these technologies be unlocked to build your business.
3. RISING CUSTOMER ACTIVISM: One need only think of Netflix and Quickster, the push back again the insensitive remarks by the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, and the public outcry over the devastating loss of life due to the collapse of the apparel factory in Bangladesh, to realize that companies are now in a dynamic dialogue around accountability with their customers. This is simply the result of a shift from broadcast traditional media to dialogue-based digital and social media. This can serve your business well when you crowdsource an idea, funding or marketing campaign, but when you rile your community it can mean devastating damage to your reputation, stock price, and sales as both Netflix and Abercrombie & Fitch discovered.
Importantly, these three trends are not mutually independent, for the social crises are informing new customer expectations that are being shared through social media and smartphones. Companies that fail to adapt can be undone by any one of these trends, but united they can put the most famous household names out of business.
So what should a business owner do? First, you must identify your authentic brand story that will ensure your company and products are meaningful and relevant to customers. Second, you must frame that story in a community-facing way to ensure you establish a dialogue in which your customers feel recognized and heard. Third, you must share this story in ways that inspire you customers to promote your brand and build your business with you. Without these three clear and critical steps, society, technology and customers are primed to put you out of business overtly (by criticizing your brand) or covertly (by moving to a competitor). This applies equally to large companies or start-ups for customer distrust or disloyalty is a silent business killer. The time to respond to these challenges is now for when these challenges are obvious and pressing it is too late and your customers will have moved on. You must position your brand to rise to meet the market, and once you do these same drivers will transform from threats to your business to tent poles of your success.
Learn how to define your brand, frame your story and inspire customers to share it at the We First Seminar on September 24-25th in Los Angeles. You’ll hear success strategies from global marketing leaders at Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Toyota, the UN Foundation and charity:water about how to build your reputation and customer community to protect your business future. Every attendee will leave with a Social Branding Blueprint specific to their business that answers these three critical challenges to your future success. Register here and enter code: SIMON to save 50%. Last 3 days to register.
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Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.