Three Steps You Must Take To Build a Sustainable Brand

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GLOBE-Net, February 19, 2013 – “People like to stand out. People like to blend in.”

Once you understand that oxymoron, you’ll be in a much better position to build a sustainable brand.

Consider the Prius effect. Thanks to its real-time mileage readout, the Prius spawned lively ‘hypermile’ one-upmanship  among proud owners. But it wasn’t enough to stand out by saving the most fuel – hypermilers went on to create their own tribes online.

It seems being the baddest hypermiler just wasn’t fun unless you could talk to all the other folks who understood where you’re coming from. The Prius effect spawned a real-time readout renaissance, with monitors for everything from  fat to  energy.

And thanks to the power of social media, virtually every measurement tool that fosters one-upmanship comes with a support group that builds tribal bonds.

The (Christmas) Light Goes On

Seeing as we just finished the holiday season, I thought it might be fitting to illustrate ‘stand out, blend in’ with the Christmas light transformation we saw a few years back.

When hyper-efficient LED Christmas lights first came on the market here in British Columbia, their unique glow made them highly recognizable. They created instant badge value – I can recall spontaneously chatting to several proud owners, asking them about price and availability, and telling them how cool I thought the lights looked.

Fast forward to the following season, and the lights had become the new norm. Now, owners of old-style lights looked like throwbacks, somehow out of touch.

Within three years, BC had completed the stand out blend in cycle, and LED lights were ubiquitous.

Turns out our local utility was behind the shift. BC Hydro marketer Jim Nelson said “We actually got involved in the LED decorative lighting movement before the lights were even available in stores. Our first move was getting first generation LED’s into the hands of highly visible customers, creating buzz and driving demand.”

The following season, Hydro worked with CSA, manufacturers and distributors to make the product widely available. The pent up demand became rapid adoption.

Building A Sustainable Brand With Norms 

Nelson underlined the importance of norms in building a strong conservation brand.

“People are more likely to take notice or take action if they observe neighbors, colleagues, leaders or celebrities taking action” said Nelson. “The power of norms transforms our low-interest category message into something that is much more compelling.”

The trick is to use mavens and leaders to introduce behavior (the ‘stand out’), then use fast followers as evidence that the behavior is catching and rapidly becoming the new normal (the ‘blend in’).

“People are sensitive to the culture of their community. They are very attuned to what their leaders are saying, and they want to fit in. They’ll adapt to new norms at incredible speed.” Hydro’s Team Power Smart residential program, for example, gives members the option to ‘self-identify’ themselves by putting ‘Team Power Smart’ stickers on their curbside recycling bins.

You Can Tap The Power Of Norms 

Utilized properly, norms can accelerate adoption and build a more sustainable brand for you. Let these pointers guide you:

  1. ‘Stand out’ first – Whether it’s hypermilers or celebrity spokespeople, tap mavens and leaders to put your brand on the map.
  2. Rapidly move to ‘blend in’ mode – Once the leader has created interest for you, fulfill by making your brand available to fast followers. You need to rapidly satisfy the demand if you want to move beyond niche.
  3. Connect emotional with rational – People will buy your brand to blend in a belong. But they want to know that they’re being smart about it. Reinforce a belief-based emotional sell with rational reinforcers.

 

by Marc Stoiber


Marc Stoiber is a creative strategist who helps clients across North America build resilient, futureproof brands. He also blogs extensively on futureproofing for publications like Huffington Post and Fast Company, and speaks on the subject from coast to coast.  This story first appeared in Sustainable Brands February 19th, 2013, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

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