Connect the dots

Getting someone to buy something is no longer the goal.

For a present-day brand, the sale should really only be the starting point for its customer interaction, said the panelists at a Social Media Week presentation titled, “How to build a brand that people don’t buy, they join.”

Some of the most intriguing brands these days are tapping into the human desire to connect, and are optimizing their customers’ experiences by showing them the roots of what they’re buying. The goal is to attract consumers who feel as if they are creating something, and who want to be a part of something bigger. Humans have always craved the added value they can get from a purchase that benefits others, but in the past no technology existed to make these connections in simple ways—but that’s obviously no longer the case.

Paull Young, Director of Digital for charity: water, says his company adopted this approach by not just collecting donations, but also by connecting passionate people who care across the world. The brand links consumers to the benefits that result from their contributions—looping them in on the impact they made and making them part of the story.

Technology is now more pervasive than ever; there are more cell phones than toilets in Africa. But Rowan Gormley, founder of Naked Wines, argued that the more sophisticated technology gets, the more human it becomes, by providing greater connectivity.

Maxine Bedat, cofounder of Zady, pointed out that corporate social responsibility used to be a marketing initiative, and often a one-off thing. Now, CSR is often baked into the business, so it’s more fundamental and thoughtful and aligns with what the company really is, said Susan McPherson from Susan McPherson Strategies.

The story behind a brand’s products is meaningful, too. Every product on Zady has a full bio and story about how it was made and who made it. Similarly, consumers can download an app on Naked’s bottles to learn who made the wine, and how it was made. This technology also enables social interaction, allowing the vintner to talk directly to the customer in real time.

Brand strategists should be asking themselves: Can people just buy our products, or can they do more? Can we create an experience?

There’s no reason brands have to figure this out all on their own, the panelists noted. They can and should ask customers and community what they want: The more you give them the opportunity to do so, the more of a community is created because consumers become all the more invested in what happens.

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