It's time to be single-minded

Brands must define and articulate their core essence in a way that adds consumer value

A friend recently told me that while at a station, she spotted someone she was friends with on Facebook. Yet she didn't feel she knew them well enough to say hello. It struck me that there was a parallel with brands seeking consumer engagement: how to maximise every communication to deepen the consumer's feeling that they really 'know' and value the brand. And how can the brand ensure the investment it makes in consumer interactions delivers a commercial return?

The answer is deceptively simple - the brand must be distilled into one simple articulation that becomes the only criterion for everything it does. Red Bull has been consistent through years of daredevil stunts, extreme-sports sponsorship and events such as Flugtag. The Stratos freefall from space is an extravagant articulation of Red Bull 'gives you wings'. After Stratos, The Telegraph quoted David Haigh, chief executive at Brand Finance, saying he would be 'surprised' if Red Bull was not worth £5bn, suggesting consumer interactions translated into sales.

Red Bull's activities deliver value to the consumer. Stratos was entertaining and inspiring. For a brand, ensuring a laser-like focus on authenticity will cultivate an audience with shared values, who in turn will be more motivated to act and advocate the brand.

Thankfully, though, consumers severing online links with brands is not common behaviour. Research by SocialVibe indicated that 63 per cent of US internet users 'rarely' or 'never' ended a connection with a brand on social media. The top reasons given for ending a connection were too many updates (33 per cent), the brand's values and/or content differing from their original perception (22 per cent) and not seeing any value (19 per cent). This demonstrates the importance of brands being clear on their core proposition and delivering value to the consumer through every interaction.

Placing authenticity at the centre challenges brands to think differently about the role of each marketing channel and consumer touchpoint. Stratos was Red Bull's own advertisement, sponsorship vehicle, conversation starter and broadcaster (via YouTube).

Red Bull isn't alone. Simon Pestridge at Nike said: 'We don't advertise any more, we just do cool stuff. We need to become part of people's lives.' Nike articulates its brand promise to deliver value for the consumer, from mass-participation events to sponsoring some of the world's most famous sportsmen and women.

Coca-Cola's latest activation uses a different mechanic, but still enables the brand to become part of people's everyday lives. 'Share a Coke' is authentic to the brand's core proposition: happiness. By encouraging consumers to swap personalised Coke bottles, they add value by creating a moment of happiness between friends. The initiative launched in Australia in 2011, where it enjoyed a four per cent sales uplift during the campaign period. Rather than asking consumers to enter its world by creating a branded experience, Coca-Cola recognised that people don't necessarily want a one-to-one interaction with a brand; they want to interact with each other. Coke became the facilitator.

The only way in which brands can deliver a connection with consumers is through authentically adding value. We must define a brand's core essence in its truest and most simple terms and then articulate it in a way that adds value. This approach challenges us to blur the demarcation between PR, advertising, sponsorship and experiential - and even the paid, owned and earned model - inspiring more creative and impactful brand activations.

Rebecca Grant is managing director, consumer, at Cohn & Wolfe

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