brand loyalty

Brand Stories: Pets with Cancer, Shoes from a Waffle Iron

A beloved pet’s bouts with cancer inspired one family to start a pet food company using high-quality ingredients. Blue’s story is at the heart of Blue Buffalo’s brand story that compels consumer interest and builds brand loyalty.

A beloved pet’s bouts with cancer inspired one family to start a pet food company using high-quality ingredients. Blue’s story is at the heart of Blue Buffalo’s brand story that compels consumer interest and builds brand loyalty.

Consumers are bombarded by brands, but most remain faceless without a compelling brand story. For companies with a story, it is an opportunity missed to build brand interest and loyalty.

I was reminded of this over the holiday break when I saw a TV ad for Blue Buffalo pet food. The ad was mostly about Blue, a large-breed Airedale that battled cancer and inspired its owners and pals to pursue a pet food company using quality, natural ingredients. A longer version of Blue’s story is on the company’s website.

Blue Buffalo is a now a publicly traded company. The young boy who fell in love with Blue as a puppy is the CEO. The company markets its higher-end dog and cat food around the BLUE Life Protection Formula®.  Dogs are everywhere at corporate headquarters and are treated like family, which led to the company’s trademarked cutline, “Love them like family. Feed them like family.” There is a Blue Buffalo foundation to raise awareness of pet cancer.

The Blue brand story has authenticity, even if the brand has faced a couple of accidents on the rug in its history. Purina sued Blue Buffalo, claiming its ingredients didn’t live up to its brand promise (Blue Buffalo blamed the lapse on some of its suppliers). Some pet owners say the food gave their dogs diarrhea, forcing them to switch to another brand. Despite these blemishes, the Blue brand story continues to attract consumer interest.

Brand storytelling has been used by many other consumer-facing companies, including Nike, which traces its birth to Bill Bowerman’s waffle iron used to mold shoe soles and continues with Phil Knight’s memoir Shoe Dog. Along the way, Nike has employed stories to make its brand more than just about running shoes. Equality is one of its recent brand stories and new apparel lines, which “celebrates differences and inspires change through the power of sport.”

One of the most iconic brand stories comes from Burt’s Bees, whose founders (an artist and a beekeeper) met through a hitchhiking encounter. Burt’s Bees sells natural care products with a side of activism, including efforts to restore areas where bees forage. Its videos underscore the company’s philosophy of treating our skins and our planet with care.

Minnetonka, which makes comfortable and affordable footwear, touts itself as a fourth-generation family-run business dedicated to hand craftsmanship and sustainable employment practices. Part of its brand storytelling is interspersing pictures of stars like Cameron Diaz and Kate Moss with user-supplied pictures of everyday people wearing their moccasins, sandals and boots. Content on its websitedescribes when and how some of its famous moccasins originated

Digital marketer Sujan Patel wrote a recent blog describing seven brands that he says are “killing it with brand-driven storytelling,” including Nike, Burt’s Bees and Minnetonka.

“Telling your story is a critical part of building your brand,” Patel writes. “It helps to shape how people view you and enables consumers to begin forging a connection with you and your company.”

The trick, he adds, is making sure the stories authentic, not fabricated. “Consumers aren’t stupid. If they think you’re fabricating stories and falsifying your brand they will find out. At some point, the truth will come out and the ‘brand’ you built will be in need of some serious damage control if it’s to survive.”

As Blue pet food demonstrates, you need to do more than tell your story. You need to walk your talk and keep faith with your brand story.

Do you have an untold brand story? Do you need help telling or showing your brand story? Share your brand story with us. Maybe we can help. In any case, we would love to hear your story.

Finding Success on Social Media

Successful use of social media requires treating fans and followers like friends.

Successful use of social media requires treating fans and followers like friends.

Many organizations still use social media as just another advertising channel. They should view social media more like a community.

While social media platforms vary widely, they share a common characteristic of being community-based. People use social media to interact with other people. They weigh their engagement based on common interests and authenticity. Participation is personal and voluntary.

So pushing marketing messages on social media platforms can miss the point of social media. Participants don't check their Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds to listen to you; they tune in to engage.

Success on social media requires engagement. You can still be on a marketing mission, but you have to offer more than your key message. Here are some suggested avenues to success:

1. Offer something useful. It may be an update on fashion trends, a short how-to video on a vexing household chore, an invitation to a clever event or a visual explanation of the process to refinance the mortgage on a house. You aren't selling as much as sharing, with a goal of building or deepening a relationship.

2. Deliver something delightful. Share a backstory, pictures your customers took or key milestone. Make your posts personal to humanize your organization. Invite reactions and new shares from your community.

3. Create a conversation. A great way to start a conversation is to ask a question and acknowledge and interact with people who respond with answers. Some conversations may be frivolous, while others are more serious. Be quick to point out great ideas or suggestions. Be just as quick to address concerns or criticisms. Treat responders as if they were family.

4. Give them a place to click. Customer acquisition remains an underlying goal, so give your social media community clear directions of where to learn more about your products or services. It is usually a website, but it can be an online "newsroom" or a blog. Avoid making this a hard push. Cast it more like an invitation. Track those who accept the invitation, so you can follow up.

5. Treat them like insiders. Make your community feel special. Offer special deals. Give them behind-the-scenes insights. See yourself as the neighbor who hosts the July 4th barbecue and fireworks show on your front driveway. Make yourself irresistible to refuse.

Social media changes rapidly, so don't fall in love with any strategies or tactics. Algorithms can change overnight, requiring new approaches.

At the same time, don't be afraid to experiment. Being unique and different has value on social media.

Social media should be part of an overall marketing strategy, not an end to itself. It is much easier – and much cheaper – to try, fail and correct course on social media than in other forms of marketing.

Most of all, social media can be a lot of fun. You won't always accumulate a huge following overnight, but you can steadily build a loyal community of followers that becomes a brand asset.

Related Link: The Five C’s of Social Media Success

Create it Yourself

High-end carmakers, homebuilders and bicycle manufacturers allow customers to customize their products. Now customers with more modest budgets, but similar appetites for customized products, can do the same thing when buying clothes, sneakers and chocolates.

Mass customization is a logical extension of the new rules of marketing that emphasize engagement over one-sided conversation. Customers not only love your brand, they also can join you in designing your products and services

Customizing products is not new. You could choose the flowers for a floral arrangement or specify the greeting on a birthday cake. What's new is how technology has made customization possible on a large scale across a vast array of product lines, even down to M&Ms.

In addition to giving customers a chance to design a product just the way they want it, mass customization gives brand managers a chance to see trends or preferences in real time and a proprietary format. It enables customers to become brand insiders, while allowing brands a peek inside the heads of their customers.

Perhaps the most innovative dimension of mass customization today is its extension to engagement between brand and customer. Product makers and service providers don't view mass customization as a one-off customer satisfaction technique, but as an ongoing relationship. Customer preferences influence brand decisions. Customers are viewed as valuable partners, not just people who buy things.

Earning Brand Loyalty

Southwest Airlines has carved out the position as the low-cost airlines and, with solid customer service, it shows that doesn't mean lowest-common-denominator value.Southwest Airlines has a brand promise of being the low-cost air carrier. It has reinforced that promise by not charging for checked bags.

A recent personal experience solidifies my perception that low-cost at Southwest Airlines doesn't mean lame service.

On a weekend flight through Oakland, California, my wife's and my bags were left on the tarmac in the rain as they were being loaded. Even though we have hard-sided bags, water seeped into the luggage through cloth seams, dampening dresses and suit pants. One of my wife's favorite suit jackets and skirt suffered color spotting.

Southwest Airlines provides a place on its website for complaints. I dutifully sent an email detailing what happened and the $100 dry cleaning bill that resulted. An automated response promised a reply within seven days. Frankly I had some doubts.