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Business News - Management - Economy - Business

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Influencer marketing is nothing new: companies have been using celebrity endorsements to promote products for decades, if not centuries. But the rise of social media has inspired a new generation of brand ambassadors, and they are real people.

I can still hear Paul Higham’s voice resonating in my mind, “Real People, B.J., Real People.”  Paul was the CMO of Walmart at the time.  After analyzing over 2,000 touch points of influence, Paul was confident that “Real People” were the best ambassadors for the brand. In those days (1989), the internet was not as influential as it is today. So, Paul created a strategy featuring real customers on National TV; this allowed the brand to share 30 seconds of fame with its best customers. Ten Countries and $200 billion in sales later, Paul’s “Real People” strategy was a complete success.

In an amusing side note, most of the TV commercials did not win any awards. However, they did win where it counted most: at the cash register.

The Power of Authenticity

Authentic, customer-led storytelling enhances brand awareness and influences purchasing decisions. We recommend starting small by building relationships with a few carefully selected Brand Lovers—your best customers. Embracing your Brand Lovers and giving them a stage can accelerate your business growth.

Let’s take a quick look at influencer marketing by the numbers:

  • Consumer-to-consumer word-of-mouth marketing generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising. (Source: McKinsey)
  • 81% of consumers make purchasing decisions based on friends’ social media posts. (Source: Market Force via Forbes)
  • 43% of social media users buy a product after sharing or “liking” it. (Source: Vision Critical)

It’s easy to see that people trust themselves and each other more than they trust advertising. Once a person validates his or her choice socially, the purchasing follows.

Here is how three top companies have augmented their traditional marketing messages by partnering with Brand Lovers to share brand and product stories:

Zappos’ VIP fashion and style bloggers

To promote its offerings beyond shoes, the digital retailer engaged with influential fashion and style bloggers, giving the VIP group $300 in shopping credits each month to purchase and design an outfit from

The strategy paid off. After just a few months, the top referring blogger had generated $9,000 in trackable revenue.

Pottery Barn’s holiday influencers

The beautiful images in Pottery Barn’s catalog can be inspiring, but the level of perfection can also be a bit intimidating.

Brand Marketing Director Kris Mulkey wanted to expand the company’s holiday marketing to show what items could look like in real homes.The brand worked with 12 influencers to show how different types of customers across the country celebrate and decorate for the winter holidays.

“When we’re posting things that are real and feel authentic, people respond,” Mulkey said.

ThredUP’s #badassmoms

ThredU, Chief Marketing Officer Anthony Marino builds the brand by showing customers that the company “gets it.”

“We have a campaign right now running on the site … where we profile some ‘badass moms’ —moms who are makers, breakers, strivers, doing great things in their communities who’ve had some fascinating lives,” Marino says. “We’ve found this has been an incredible bit of storytelling that helps our customers see the types of other moms [who] get involved in ThredUP and how they choose to live.”

Powerful Marketing

The allure of Hollywood stars and charismatic athletes is far from over, but for many brands, the realness and authenticity of everyday customer stories hold powerful marketing potential.

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Feeling a day late for the innovation party?

Not to worry; we have you covered. Here are eight strategies that will benefit your enterprise.  

Foster Community with Shared Memories and Stories

A long time ago, in a boardroom far, far away, a Target leader must have fondly remembered space adventures gone by. In addition to hosting a “Shop the Force” event to promote Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” with toys, apparel, and other items related to the film starting at midnight on September 4. The retailer offered a “Share the Force” experience both online and in stores.

In stores, consumers were given the opportunity to enjoy photo ops, giveaways, and demos of Star Wars toys.

Online at, those consumers were able to turn memories into “holograms” among the stars. The collected memories will eventually be archived at Lucasfilm. It is a place, as Darth Vader might say, we can all meet again, at last.

Try finding ways to bring your customers together. Building a brand community can supercharge your growth and make it harder for your competitors to take market share from your brand.

Join Product, Lifestyle, and Experience

Warby Parker, a designer eyewear brand, encouraged consumers to “enjoy the ride” of the season by downloading a map of must-see destinations across the United States, along with a Spotify music playlist.

Naturally woven throughout were the hottest styles in sunglasses.

Warby Parker was named Fast Company’s Most Innovative Company of 2015, commended for being the first great made-on-the-Internet brand — so a road trip or two may well be in order.

Show Appreciation

Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, co-founder and chief creative officer of Vera Bradley, has maintained a personal touch throughout the handbag, luggage, and accessories retailer’s impressive growth to $509 million in annual sales.

She recently told Fortune, “My father always said, ‘In business, you sell yourself first, your company second, and the product third,’ and he was right. Business is all about forming relationships and having a company that reflects your values.”

When the company first started, the leadership would put $50 in employee’s’ birthday cards and instructed, “This has to be spent on you.”

“Finance asks every year if we can just put the money in people’s paychecks, and I say no,” she said. “When you have found money in cash, it’s just more meaningful.”

Try showing appreciation to your people and watch appreciation becomes part of your company culture. Little gestures can go a long way in helping people around you feel valued and appreciated.

Give Associates an Insider’s View

Kohl’s hosted a question-and-answer session with designer Vera Wang, who visited the retailer’s new Innovation Center. Associates in IT, store design, purchasing, and supply chain operations had the chance to interact with Wang and Kevin Mansell, Kohl’s chairman, president, and CEO.

The event, which Kohl’s called an opportunity to learn from the industry’s top talent, is part of Kohl’s multiyear Greatness Agenda strategy, which has “Winning Teams” as one of the core components.

What are some fun ways you can bring industry experts and your teams together?

Shake Up Perceptions

As an upscale retailer well entrenched in successful marketing initiatives, Nordstrom would be forgiven for playing it safe, particularly when new technology is concerned. To promote its summer sale, Nordstrom took to the roof with a 3D installation, mimicking its Leith leopard-print body dress as part of one giant Instagram post.

This type of comprehensive social media campaign may not have resonated with its typical affluent customer, but Nordstrom is laying the groundwork to develop the next generation of shoppers.

How can you shake up the perception of your brand in the marketplace?

Build Lasting Relationships through Innovative Memberships

At their best, neighborhood coffee shops are all about community and the chance to see familiar faces over a steaming hot cup o’ joe.

Greenwich Village’s Fair Folks & a Goat is based on a subscription model: $35 a month gets members as many coffees, teas, and lemonades as they desire.

Try creating a membership program for your business where consumers feel a sense of inclusion, and receive relevant rewards.

Take Advantage of Cutting-Edge Technology

Maybe it’s time for the Internet of Things to move to the storefront.

London’s The Dandy Lab has done just that. The storefront was originally designed as a home for small independent British fashion designers, and while that is still at the base of the products, technology is used to drive sales.

Because people like a good story with their purchases, a customer can pick up a product, place it on a near-field communication terminal, and see more about the brand on a large flat screen.

Craft an Experience — and Listen for Cues

Step into an Alton Lane showroom and you might find yourself casually having a drink and an engaging conversation about your hobbies.

The premium tailored apparel retailer is creating a bit of a revolution in bespoke menswear, attempting to know its customers well enough to create “the best experience possible,” according to CEO and co-founder Colin Hunter. “We want our team to be observant hosts and hostesses, so we try to pick up on the small cues that naturally come up in conversation.”

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Brand DNA

Our approach to understanding customers is founded on what we call the Brand DNA. Brand DNA is the root for developing all long-term strategies and short-term tactics. The Brand DNA consists of three interlocking parts:

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • Jungian Archetypes
  • The Cultural Story
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs

Our work on customers began fifteen years ago trying to understand why some customers develop strong relationships with some brands—brands we labeled Cult Brands. At the heart of this understanding was humanistic psychology, specifically Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.

Maslow described these needs as instinctoid: they function instinctually in a way like a fight or flight response does.

On some level, these needs motivate everything we do, including purchasing behavior. But not every brand satisfies the same needs.

Understanding the needs you fulfill best is important so that your messaging and strategy does not emphasize something that isn’t motivating your customers to do business with you. It’s important for brands to play to their strengths.

Jungian Archetypes

Humanistic psychology acts as a foundation, but it offers an incomplete picture: it doesn’t explain how the instincts manifest psychically or phenomena like some mothers not having strong maternal instincts.

For this, we turn to Carl Jung’s work on archetypes. Jung has largely been misused by the business world. Those that attempt to apply Jungian ideas tend to try and pigeonhole brands into a limited number of archetypes. This runs counter to Jung’s thinking: he saw the number of potential archetypes as being vast.

Jung thought of archetypes as patterns fueled by instincts.

These archetypes are evolutionary psychic structures. He used the term collective unconscious to describe the sum of all these structures that influence a person’s psyche. They organize the way we interact with and view the world.

Archetypes have both positive and negative—what he called the shadow—sides. This explains why some manifestations of the mother archetype may result in a lack of nurturing.

Understanding what archetypes are linked to your brand is important so that you can reinforce the patterns that positively affect your customers’ psyches and avoid affecting them negatively by accidently emphasizing shadow aspects of the archetype.

The Cultural Story

The Cultural Story is perhaps the most complex piece of the Brand DNA. It takes into account both the hierarchy of human needs and archetypes, and how they manifest to solve tensions in the culture or subculture of the customers.

It is the story of your brand in the customers’ lives.

The Cultural Story is rooted both in ideas of comparative mythology—how stories common to all cultures manifest in a modern, relevant context—and marketing ideas of drivers of choice, drivers of differentiation, and a competitive landscape.

Understanding the Cultural Story is important because it explains how you solve problems that are important in your customers’ lives and how to position yourself against your biggest competitors.


Next week we’ll dive deeper into the first part of the Brand DNA—the hierarchy of human needs—and how it applies to business.

Until then, start thinking about:

  • What needs in Maslow’s hierarchy does your brand fulfill the best?
  • What are you doing to reinforce these needs?
  • Are you reinforcing any needs that don’t play to your brand’s strengths?
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