What Makes You Different
The other day I wrote about competitive differentiation and asked you, the small business owner, what you're good at. Our core competencies and intellectual property are those things that set us apart from other competitors and make us special, unique. It creates a difference between us and them. It gives the consumer a reason to do business with us.
Important as they are, another differentiating factor that I talk about in my strategic courses with students is the impact of values, thereby asking, what do you believe in?
This is About Personification ... Not Personhood
Now, you might find it odd that corporations (legal entities that purely exist to hold assets, accumulate wealth, pay taxes, and distribute dividends to shareholders) can have feelings, opinions, or values in the human sense, and indeed the political argument of corporate personhood isn't what we're approaching here, rather, it's the trend concerning the personification of businesses.
Businesses and brands want to become more like people. People, it turns out, are easier to relate to than a nondescript logo. Yes, it's true. And in social media, we're interested in learning about, asking about, collaborating with, and sharing content with people. Businesses very much want to be in that game. They want to be trusted by the consumer much more so that their products and brand resonate on a very personal level. Examples:
- Sir Richard Branson of Virgin's support for LBGT and right-to-die causes
- Target creating policies surrounding open-carry of weapons in their stores
- Exxon, Urban Outfitters, Dominos Pizza, Purina, Cracker Barrel, Chic Fil A, etc. very public opposition to marriage equality and discriminatory practices towards their employees
- Hobby Lobby's infamous religious objection to covering contraceptives for their female employees
- Burger King's Gay Pride Whopper
- Starbucks' College Achievement Plan, their own response to open-carry, and their own CEO, Howard Schultz, advocating a hike in the US minimum wage
Companies Are Instruments for Promoting Values
You know, when I was in business school some twenty years ago, my professors were quick to tell me that corporations were generally neutral on social issues as to avoid offending broad consumer segments. I learned to write placid, vanilla corporate values like "return the highest form of shareholder equity" and be a "good corporate citizen" towards "human resources" and "environmental causes". Blech. Corporatespeak. Just leaves a film in my mouth ...
Anyway, think about it: historically: it's not like US corporations or their celebrity CEO's were coming out of the woodwork to address women's rights, racism, wealth inequality, environmentalism, supreme court decisions, and so on. But here we are.
Businesses have values, or, it would appear that they're instruments of promoting values espoused by its management team. And it turns out that they're not concerned about pissing people off. They're trying to connect to consumers who resonate with their message in a media landscape that increasingly speaks to the individual and not the mass market; to consumers who're enabled (through technology) to make more value-based decisions when it comes to their buying behavior.
Values and Technology Spending
And this is where technology spending comes into place.
- What is your technology strategy doing to speak to the causes, issues, and positions that're of concern to your customers?
- How is your technology strategy making it easier for you to share those values, or, to business with like-minded consumers?
- How are your values broadcasted loud and clear to the most appropriate audience? What does your website do to address those values?
- Where can technology be creatively used to promote your brand and its values? A great example: I recently saw Chipotle's clever Scarecrow campaign featuring an animated short and video games promoting sustainable farming and nutritious fast food.
- How are your competitors spending their time on social media? How are they using Social as a strategy to connect to likeminded consumers and build buzz around their positions?
Monetizing Your Values
I'll leave you with a parting thought. This week, I landed a new Portland, Oregon client who found me online, reviewed my website, and read my story and my values statement. They said they wanted to do business with me because I was truthful, genuine, authentic.
Bang. Zero acquisition cost, new client: these guys approached me because I openly believe the same stuff they do. Again, we do business with people, brands, and companies we trust.
So I'll ask you: what is your tech spending and Social strategy doing to express your company's authentic-self, and to express what you believe in to connect with others? Or, is your brand terribly, conspicuously silent on these issues ... like companies were back, you know, 20, 30 years ago?