Marketing expert Robert Willey details what brands need to do more (and do less) to make lasting connections.
5 min read
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Early in my career, a highly respected colleague told me that ‘marketing was the tax you pay for being unremarkable.’ At first, I was offended and felt defensive. And then I realized he was right. Marketing often stands at the end of the line, told to go fast, ignore the broken parts and do amazing work. This is exactly why marketing is expensive most of the time. It’s hard to convince people to buy something that was never meant to actually do them any good. Thankfully those brands are on the wrong side of history. Now more than ever consumers and brands can have a symbiotic relationship if brands simply strive to be a badge worth standing for.
Make it official
Eight percent of people on IG follow a brand. Remember when Facebook launched ads over a decade ago and there was nearly an internet revolt to allow companies to co-mingle their posts with your friends and family? Fast forward to today and not only do we follow brands, we expect them to engage like our best friends. To respect our feeds and post content we want to see, learn from, know about and occasionally buy. It’s such an invitation for the best brands to find new relationships and create lifetime value.
Yet countless brands just want to produce ads. Sell stuff. Tell you why you should buy their widget with a highly commercialized post that most of us simply scroll past. The best brands don’t aspire for anyone to simply purchase. At the recovery juice company Cheribundi where I serve as an executive, we make antioxidant-rich tart cherry juice that is consumed by pro, elite and everyday athletes, and we aspire to make things people want to see, watch and buy. In that order. What’s the point if not? And people want the same: to connect, advocate, share and come back later. That sounds a lot like a real relationship to me. And I’m here for it.
It’s never just one thing
The concept of what we expect from our spouses has changed. Once upon a time, it was enough to be the master of a domain: provider, housewife, mother, dad, etc. Now talk to therapists and they all say the same thing: we want more in our relationships. We are dynamic, complex and aspirational humans that have come to believe we can have it all. Well, that’s now what we expect from our brands as well.
Once upon a time the adage ‘stack it high and let it fly’ was the king of the retail kingdom. Earn the shelf space and create the biggest footprint to acquire consumers. Times have changed. While trial still often happens offline, it doesn’t begin and end with the shelf. It also requires more than just presence. Being the best at one thing rarely wins the day. As GM of ecommerce at the soap company method, we knew that efficacy wasn’t enough. Sure soap can clean things well, but why can’t it also be counter-worthy design or smell good or even help save the planet. And when we did all those things, we learned that consumers want more than just soap.
It’s not about me, it’s you
In most companies, the ideas for innovation come from inside. Feasibility, operational inputs, P&Ls and efficiencies rule the roadmap. Yet that’s not where some of the best and often most disruptive ideas come from. In my time at Taskrabbit, we clearly understood that people needed help around their home assembling furniture and hanging shelves by paying attention to the challenges of weekend chores. Uber followed suit and was born because SF taxis were the worst. It wasn’t about trying to find white space in a market – it was creating the market.
These types of opportunities surround us every day and all we have to do is look around. Pay attention to culture. Read, talk, watch and understand the social conversation. Be curious. No doubt sometimes the pace and tenor can feel throttling but that’s why marketing has moved to the front of the class. We aren’t just a cost center. We should be the compass for innovation and the microphone for cultural trends. At fashion ecommerce startup Spring, we always said that the sidewalk was the new catwalk. The show outside the show was where trends were made. Look outside, investigate your feeds and listen.
There has never been a better time to be a brand. To connect and positively impact people through commercial gain. While we have all been sitting inside, staring at screens and pondering the future, I’m excited to see brands build relationships IRL once again. Let’s aspire to be remarkable.
Robert Willey serves as Chief Marketing Officer for several Emil Capital Partners portfolio brands, where he leads all marketing functions including brand strategy, growth marketing, packaging, PR, performance marketing and social media. Currently, Rob serves as an executive on Cheribundi, Sipp and Plantisch.