Sunday, September 6, 2009

What does all this mean for small businesses? (Chapter 1/6)

So, what can small businesses take away from this academic white paper? This was not discussed in Muniz and O'Guinn's work, but my perspective on their research is that each brand has a past, a present and a future.

The past is marked by rituals and traditions that have evolved to be part of the brand but that are celebrated in the present. This "past" comes from the brand's history and the stories about the brand that surface from the brand's past. Thus, brand owners would do well to consider their brand's past and determine what in the brand's history will make the brand more relevant to brand users today who might want to become part of the brand's community. And from this brand history, what specific stories detail the brand's importance to current users? Why would current users care about those stories as they use the brand today? Importantly, today's consumers want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves and part of something that is more important than their current problems and challenges.

The "consciousness of kind" marker can be viewed as the brand's present time perspective. In truth, what consciousness of kind says is "there are some of us here and now that are more alike than others of us (who are here and now)." And from this idea, brand communities develop their legitimacy filters and oppositional brand loyalties. The present is all about 1) "those who are as committed (here and now) as we are" and 2) "what brands threaten our 'here and now' because they oppose the brand (and brand community) to which we are committed."

That brings us to the future, right? And what better way for a brand to have meaning in people's lives than through moral responsibility? No one wants to be associated with a brand that has no moral responsibility for the future. I am not saying that every brand must be associated with a popular cause, but it must be thought of as morally responsible if it is to garner a large number of people who seek a strong association with it.

In their book, Creating Customer Evangelists, Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell discuss the importance of organizations being committed to something larger than themselves. They suggest organizations define some cause that allows them to rise above just pursuing profitability and growth. In essence, the most successful brand communities will grow because they are part of some idea much bigger than even their brand.
Moral responsibility says that the brand cares about the future.

Now this idea may seem a bit scary to the average small business because one must wonder how fragmented a marketing communications budget might be if it is trying to do too much. But Huba and McConnell are not talking about affinity programs that were the rage in the late 1980s and have continued to some extent until now: "Buy some of our product and we will donate money to..." No, that is not what the authors recommend. That is superficial and most customers see right through that one and the brand may end up looking worse than before it initiated the affinity program.

Instead, what organizations must do is figure out what problems facing the world is their organization tackling? What does the organization really want to stand for because no one wants to be part of an organization that is merely trying to make more money for its shareholders. The good news is that our world has lots of problems and every organization can help make the world a better place in its own way. Without evident moral responsibility, how can a brand build a community of loyal users? It can't.

Muniz and O'Guinn found two benefits of moral responsibility: integrating/retaining members and assisting in the use of the brand. Depending on the exact nature of each brand, one can see how brand communities are strengthened when there is a clear role of moral responsibility. No one wants to be associated with a brand that does not care. Moral responsibility says that the brand cares about the future.

So, what is your brand's past and how can you leverage that to build a brand community around it? What are the "here and now" aspects of your brand and its user base? Can these help make your brand less vulnerable to your competition? Finally, what moral responsibility does your brand take for the future? Said another way, what does your brand hope for the future?

Thanks for reading. More to come!

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