When It Comes to Branding, I Don’t Believe in Formulas, Except This One

I was recently asked to deliver a presentation to a group of consumer products goods brands (CPG) that shared a problem: How to stay relevant as consumers and their preferences change, seemingly faster than ever. I get this question a lot. And while I never approach any branding challenge with formulaic solutions, this particular issue is different.

One could argue there was a time when all generations actively participating in the marketplace shared more commonality, other than age, than they did extreme differences. At the same time, not much change occurred in marketing communication practices since the television, and the TV dinner, became ubiquitous in America. It was basically a Mad Men world. For a solid 60 to 70 years, we marketers were pushing a one-way message via print, radio or television. And the consumer rarely, if ever, talked back.

That was until the internet came along.

Have you ever thought much about the fact that if you are a Baby Boomer, like me, you were born in the U.S. But, if you’re a Millennial or a Gen Z, you were born anywhere on Earth: China, Russia, Peru, Brazil, Italy, Africa, and yes, the U.S. too. The point is, Millennial and Gen Z are global generations. They’re extremely globally connected generations, and as we all know, they gather and process information in vastly different ways than consumers did even 10 years ago. So, it’s no wonder it can be a struggle to understand them and to communicate with them. Add to this conundrum the sheer size of their economic power and you have a recipe for disaster, or a massive opportunity, waiting to happen.

My task that day was to help set the compass toward vast opportunity, with the first step being to rethink Relevance. Because, when you are relevant “to” someone, you matter to them. And Relevance is where our formula begins.

Obviously, your brand has been relevant or you wouldn’t be in business. The question is not “Are you relevant?” The real question is “To whom are you relevant?” This question is followed quickly by, “In your effort to keep growing your business and brand equity, how do you remain relevant in the future?”

But, being relevant alone is not enough for building a strong brand. That’s where the second R in our formula came in: Resonance. You need to resonate with the people to whom you are relevant. Resonance means you are meaningful in their lives. Resonance creates an emotional connection, and with an emotional connection comes trust.

So, are you resonant with those you want or need to be resonant with? Whether you are or not only matters when you consider what you want their Reaction to your brand to be. And therein lies the formula for building a successful brand in a constantly changing world: 

Relevance + Resonance = ReACTION

The question that inevitably follows is: How do I get relevant and resonant with a generation I don’t understand, that uses tools to communicate I don’t understand, and makes purchase decisions based upon emotions and values I don’t understand? Where that question created tension in the audience, the answer brought an equal measure of relief: The same way you always have … empathy.

In the past, it was easier to understand multi-generational consumers and be empathetic with them. The communication channels were far less noisy and far more direct. Even Don Draper knew that the key to developing a relationship with the consumer was to first walk in her shoes. But, unlike Don, your first step to empathy doesn’t need to start with a cigarette and three fingers of scotch.

Here’s the good news for scotch haters and lovers alike: The global generation is very willing to share their opinions, values and beliefs via their communication tools. Observance of behaviors and attitudes, a potential first step toward empathy, is made all the easier via the social media analytics tools available to pretty much anyone. Quite simply, “listening” has never been easier.

Just remember that you are listening to understand, above all else. In any relationship in life it’s pretty much impossible to be empathetic if you are not listening to understand.

Also keep this in mind: You are relevant to someone and you are definitely resonant with someone. The question will always be, “Are you relevant to and resonant with the one you need to receive the greatest reaction from?”

I’ll leave you to answer that while I pour a scotch.

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