6 Things to Live by as Marketers in a World Where Taking a Stand Matters

April 30, 2021

Young woman working from home

As a marketer, one of the best recent events I experienced was led by writer, comedian, and activist Baratunde Thurston, author of “How to be Black,” former Supervising Producer of Digital Expansion for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and creator of the How to Citizen podcast.

It was really exciting to hear Baratunde sit down with Adobe’s VP of its Digital Strategy Group, John Copeland, and LinkedIn’s Head of GTM, Reem Abeidoh, who joined Baratunde to discuss what is most important for brands and marketers today. (Watch this Future of Marketing Talk online until May 19.)

6 Great Marketing Insights from Agility in Marketing

1. Be Knowable

Over the last year, who we are matters more than ever.  We expect our brands to stand for something. With more than 71% of people preferring to buy from brands that align with their values, being knowable goes beyond value signaling or avoiding bad press.

Companies choosing to take a stand are gaining standing ovations. For example, in response to the recent passage of Georgia’s restrictive voting law, Major League Baseball (MLB) moved its Allstar Game out of Atlanta. Despite backlash, MLB saw record high streaming viewership and increases. Georgia, on the other hand, lost more than $100 million in revenue after the voting legislation passed.

“Leading companies are no longer playing it safe and staying politically neutral. Like with innovation and technology, brands are actually taking risks with their political and social actions,”  Abeidoh emphasized. “That's something we haven't seen as prevalently in the past as we are seeing it today. Companies like Amazon, Google, GM, BlackRock—they're all coming together in order to actually provide a strong position,” she added.

Taking your time to respond may feel smart, but is it backfiring in the court of public opinion? Tools, research, and consensus are valuable as companies tread lightly. But responses that come a few minutes late may not feel authentic. Tailoring responses to specific target groups can look insincere.

“When companies have an opportunity to step up and say what they stand for, if they don't say anything, consumers interpret that silence as ‘do you not care,” Copeland said.

2. Today’s Marketing is Rooted in Identity

Consumers want more than products. As an individual or a brand, today’s marketing is defined by identity. Customers are telling us who they expect us to be with their attention and buying power. More than 60% of millennials say they won’t buy from a company that doesn’t align with their values.

Over the last year, we watched our world in chaos and crisis from the other side of a screen. Now, people want their time to be about the relationships they have missed. That translates into how they buy.

The world has awakened to the realization that it's not enough to have only what we need. People want to see their values in the products, brands, and people they endorse. We don't want to waste time. We want our time to be meaningful and expressive of who we are.

So how can marketers create for this new audience?

3. “Values” Influence Product

Product is no longer about function alone. People want their coffee to be fair trade, their products to have impact, and their companies to be about their lives.  It’s about their whole world, not just about them. We need to be customer-centric in how we think about, design, and market products.

According to Adobe’s Copeland, product ethos matters throughout a customer lifecycle from the first touchpoint to renewal.

An example from Adobe: “Our mission is really stated as changing the world through digital experiences,” he said, adding, "for products like Photoshop and Premiere, we think about those as helping people tell the stories they want to tell. We believe everybody has a story to tell, [and we design] our products to be ‘from the classroom to the boardroom.’”

People are thinking bigger, and our companies are evaluated alongside our product.

4. Your Customer is the Hero of Your Product

Your customers are asking if you are worth investing in. They need to see themselves as complimented and cared for. Brands must be consistent and responsive or risk losing a loyal consumer. “Brands no longer really dictate who they are in the eyes of the customer,” Abeidoh explained. “The customer is actually also telling us what their perspective is of us. So there is a two-way connection here in defining who we are and listening to the customer and their expectations of us. And then we evolve together.”

Consistent brand experiences are critical. As Abeidoh pointed out, to feel like a brand cares, every person that touches a customer, every bit of messaging, must feel value-driven, in real time. “How we enable our sales to communicate with customers is really critical. So, for example, you know, we had to give guidance to our sales to say, here's the tone we need to serve as a partner because we know that there are customers who are facing the same challenges. How do we support them?”

5. Search for the Real Story and Share it Widely

Data is the foundation of marketing readiness. We need to know who we are, who customers are, and be ready to act.  But it is the customer story that gives data context.

You want to practice “leveraging artificial intelligence to try and distill quickly ‘what are the themes coming out of the data,” Copeland advised. Then step back and ask, how to address those themes “How do we get even more proactive?”

We need to take data, understand the stories in it, and ask ourselves “what can we glean from the data... and what's the next experience that we want to deliver to customers that is going to be very much in keeping with what they're looking for from us?” Copeland said.

Next, share data and their stories widely, so that the company and all its representatives are fueled by that ethos. Your story is an animating force that allows marketers to be adaptive in the moment, not just after they analyze the latest trends and data sets.

“We are storytellers. We're dot connectors,” Copeland explained. And that, for him, means having your finger on the pulse, being the voice of the customer for the business. We can try and predict what will come up, and how we want to address it, but some marketing must be reactive. “You have to react because you can't always predict everything that's going to happen at any given time, but it is certainly a lot easier to react and to be proactive when you have a very clear sense of who you are as a company, what your values are and what you will and will not stand for.”

Sharing the story, readying sales and marketers to respond in their daily interactions and larger initiatives allows us to live in real time, as part of our customer community.

6. Do Not Try to Please Everyone

Most importantly, as you strike out with your newly emboldened brand identity, make sure you can make good on your value promises. Marketers must be careful not to pander for showmanship, create multiple personalities to meet with audience segmentation, or practice virtue signaling. This past year was full of earnest brand efforts to help people find solutions, comfort, and support—but how many made good on those marketing promises? That breach of trust does not come back easily.

We use narratives to keep ourselves aligned around values, accountable, and enabled so that we can be more honest. You won’t reach everyone, but you will earn loyalty and streamline your workforce around shared values by nurturing brand identity.

“[You] have to watch out just how many brand identities you put out there because — as a company, as a brand, as a person — if you try to stand for everything you end up standing for nothing,” Copeland cautioned.

“At the heart of it, you shouldn't necessarily have to be told what's right and wrong,” Copeland said. “You should be earning the customer's respect. And if they're sharing information with you intentionally or otherwise, you should be respecting what they tell you.”

For more great marketing trends and thinking for 2021, check out the Marketing for Agility video on demand and this year’s Adobe Summit, where you can hear about future trends and other topical marketing content from John Copeland and other thought leaders for free this year.

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