Customer benefits are no longer the dominant way people evaluate brands, as management behavior and society outcomes are of equal importance to consumers. This was among many takeaways from this morning's inaugural FleishmanHillard TRUEtalk in New York.
Think about that for a second. A company can create and distribute a fantastic product that benefits every person who uses it. On the surface, one might think that is enough to be a great brand in consumers' eyes. It's a start, but it's nowhere near the finish.
Companies cannot simply sell to people. They must serve them. That means being there 24-7 for customers. That means being transparent to the point where people have enough factual information they can analyze on their own. That means understanding that "innovation" is problem-solving, it's not solely the domain of the technology folks. No brand can claim to be authentic without grasping the above.
Another key factor in this equation is talent and culture – a point underscored by Jim Stengel, this morning's featured speaker, former global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble, and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies.
In discussing how to define a brand in the 21st century, he broke it down to three main criteria. First comes the big idea that people instantly associate with your brand. As an example, Stengel took a quick poll of the audience and asked them the first thought they had when he mentioned Dove. More than 75% responded, "Real Beauty." That’s a big idea that is still paying dividends. Second is storytelling, one of the industry's biggest present buzzwords.
His third point: "Talent and 'organizational energy' are the new competitive advantage." In speaking to the CEOs of many new startups, Stengel has discovered that this group of leaders spends 50% to 80% of its time thinking about these two specific elements. These entrepreneurs' staffs and cultures are vital parts of the foundation upon which they hope to build their brands from the ground up.
Perhaps the most important point to remember: a brand saying it is authentic means little. Actions speak louder than words. A company must behave in a manner where the ultimate arbiters of its authenticity – consumers – deem it to be so. That is the outcome every brand should strive for.