I like Karma. Call me an old hippy but Karma rules. At the recent AAAA conference Jim Stengel (P & G’s Global Marketing Officer) described a quite profound cultural shift that the world’s biggest marketer is undertaking in its advertising models:
“It’s not about telling and selling. It’s about bringing a relationship mind-set to everything we do. Marketers need to forge bonds with consumers by opening two-way dialogues.”
One of the key ways that brands achieve this, he says, is by being ‘generous’ – giving something back to their consumers. He used Amazon’s free customer reviews, Starbucks offering coffee grounds for customers to use as garden compost, the ‘human’ approach taken to get P & G’s Folgers factory up and running again after Hurricane Katrina (including stories told by the factories workers being used in Folgers advertising) as examples.
It’s a positive/glass half-full approach to communications which feels a lot like John Grant’s well articulated ‘Marketing Enthusiasm’, which talks of brands finding ways in which to involve people, translating products into everyday lives and concerns, co-creating to allow people to get enthusiastic about stuff they can own and shape, and the importance of making ideas contagious.
So with concepts like Marketing Enthusiasm and generous brands, the tone and behaviour that brands adopt becomes all important. Paul Isakson has posted on a quote from Duncan Marshall, Creative Director of Droga5, first featured in an AdAge article:
“The really smart advertising and marketing people are the ones who figure out how to get people to come to them”
John Battelle of Federated media publishing (of the celebrated Boing boing and Guy Kawasaki) and also one of the founding editors of Wired calls it ‘conversational marketing’, the idea that we can really make use of participatory media to change the way we interact with our prospects. We don’t shout, we converse. The internet and the advent of the web is what Marshall McLuhan would have called a ‘hot’ medium (in ‘Understanding Media’ he describes the difference between ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ media) since it shapes messages in a different way and requires new, and different, filters to be engaged – but this can apply to all media.
Of-course, this kind of approach relies heavily on a relatively scarce commodity – trust. In their write up of Stengels speech, the great Buzz Canuck pick up on another Stengel quote from the 4A’s: ‘market share is trust materialized’. We all know how trust in big corporates and institutions is on the wane – the nVision ‘Changing Lives’ graph below represents the proportion who disagree or strongly disagree that most companies in the UK are fair to consumers:
But according to research conducted by Corporate Culture, people can trust a company’s product and services whilst not needing to trust the company as a whole. So it is evidently at least as critical for the R in CSR to be actionable at a brand as well as a corporate level. As Chris Anderson says in The Long Tail, the currencies change as the tail extends:
"The motives to create are not the same in the head as they are in the tail. People are driven by monetary motives at the head, but the coin of the realm at the lower end of the tail is reputation"
The web as the great leveller, changes the currency to the most human, person to person level – to character, integrity, reputation.
So isn’t it really just all about Karma? What goes around comes around? That brands get what they deserve? That how a brand acts and behaves in a market over time will determine people’s response to it?
There’s a common misconception about Karma that it operates in isolation. You do something bad, something bad happens to you. But the concept is actually based on the sum of all that an individual has done, is currently doing, will do. It’s not about retribution, reward or punishment. Its simply deals with what is: “The effects of all deeds actively create past, present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one’s own life, and the pain and joy it brings to others.” (Via). So the behaviour of a brand over time is a form of communication in its own right.
Brand Karma. Now there’s an idea