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The Last Brand Standing

The Last Brand Standing

David Keefe

David Keefe

March 26, 2019

Conran Design Group’s David Keefe on why having a solid “social game” is key to surviving in business

“Having a solid social game is becoming a determining factor for anyone earning the title of sole survivor”

We all have rituals. One of my favorites is to watch the mega-hit “Survivor” with my 18-year-old daughter, Shannon, who has become a true aficionado of the game. The contest pits people from all walks of life against each other after they are dropped onto a remote island in Fiji for 40 days—may the best person win. As the show has evolved over the years, so have the strategies to compete using brains, brawn, mental chicanery, and complete deception.

In recent years, it has become clear that most of the eventual winners had a very important ingredient to their success: their “social game.” Here, the social game boils down to the emotional bonds one creates with their peers (who ultimately vote for you to be the winner). Are you conscientious? Do you do what you say you will do? Can you be trusted to do the right thing when no one is watching? Do you compete in a way that earns respect? While the cast and circumstances change every season, having a solid social game has become a determining factor for anyone earning the title of sole survivor.

In the world of branding, where consumer loyalties can be fragmented across a myriad of brands, it can be equally challenging to forge deep social relationships. Not surprisingly, many brands are turning their efforts to upping their social game to survive the competition over the long haul.

But what does the social game look like in the world of business? How can a brand be socially engaged with their target audiences in an authentic way, while at the same time performing the basics of blocking and tackling as a business?

For example, Gillette, currently ranked #7 in Havas Group’s 2019 Meaningful Brands Study, recently launched an ad campaign to leverage the #MeToo movement in a very memorable and emotional TV spot that evolved its decades-old mantra, “the best a man can get,” to “the best men can be.” The ad looked to encourage men to better model their behavior to respect all members of society. The campaign certainly succeeded in getting attention and provoking a response. However, as is often the case today, the public was polarized: some people loved how it called out the role of men in society, while others saw it as preaching to men unnecessarily.

Whichever side one took, the campaign certainly cemented a deeper social relationship with women, who interestingly are the chief buyers of razors in most US households: an exceedingly smart social game connected to a solid business driver.

At the same time, some have observed that Gillette’s new social game was a direct response to arch-rival Unilever’s acquisition of Dollar Shave Club, a decidedly all-male brand that has been a huge growth engine in Unilever’s quest to forge its own unique social game with younger male shavers.

Positioned as a membership club, for just a few dollars a month, Dollar Shave Club’s social game reaches deep into the “man cave” and taps into primal male grooming habits that reside at the intersection of branding and bravado.

Regardless of which shaving camp one falls into, it is clear that brand survival today may require developing social game strategies that are authentic to the brand, smart for the business, and never, ever erode the brand’s treasured equity that it has built up over time.

"If your employees are not on board, why should anyone else be?"

Establishing an effective social game should be driven by 10 key considerations that can ultimately assure what is the last brand standing:

Do your homework: Research can identify the core issues brand’s audiences care most about. Get to know these well and the reasons behind them. There is always a story behind the story.

Focus on what matters: When aligning your brand with any social issues, focus on those things that are not only true, but both true and important. Your target audiences can always tell you what they believe is true about your brand, but it is only the ones that are true and important that will penetrate the marketplace and become enduring.

See your audience as dynamic: As your brand’s audiences age, their allegiances to social issues will change and evolve over time. Always stay connected to them to understand those shifts.

Have a standard: Your brand’s social game must be clear so that people get it right away, credible so that it sounds authentic coming from your brand, and compelling so people are proud to associate with that brand.

Avoid fads: Make sure the basis for your brand’s social game is not a trend, but instead has enduring properties.

Know that every action has a reaction: You brand’s competitors are smart and they will likely engage in a similar strategy—always try to think ahead and predict what the competitive response will be to your social game, if possible.

Brand inward: Stand for what matters to your employees, who are your ultimate brand ambassadors. If your employees are not on board, why should anyone else be?

Have a Plan B: Social issues (and the personalities associated with them) can turn unfavorable, be met with resistance, or experience asymmetric opposition. Be prepared for these shifts with a backup plan.

Go deep: If a brand stands for everything, then it stands for nothing. Choose social issues that your brand can anchor to authentically and be quickly understood.

Know your end game: Ask yourself what level of investment, resources, and time you are willing (or expect) to dedicate to your social game. What is its shelf life? When should it be retired?

“Having a solid social game is becoming a determining factor for anyone earning the title of sole survivor”

We all have rituals. One of my favorites is to watch the mega-hit “Survivor” with my 18-year-old daughter, Shannon, who has become a true aficionado of the game. The contest pits people from all walks of life against each other after they are dropped onto a remote island in Fiji for 40 days—may the best person win. As the show has evolved over the years, so have the strategies to compete using brains, brawn, mental chicanery, and complete deception.

In recent years, it has become clear that most of the eventual winners had a very important ingredient to their success: their “social game.” Here, the social game boils down to the emotional bonds one creates with their peers (who ultimately vote for you to be the winner). Are you conscientious? Do you do what you say you will do? Can you be trusted to do the right thing when no one is watching? Do you compete in a way that earns respect? While the cast and circumstances change every season, having a solid social game has become a determining factor for anyone earning the title of sole survivor.

In the world of branding, where consumer loyalties can be fragmented across a myriad of brands, it can be equally challenging to forge deep social relationships. Not surprisingly, many brands are turning their efforts to upping their social game to survive the competition over the long haul.

But what does the social game look like in the world of business? How can a brand be socially engaged with their target audiences in an authentic way, while at the same time performing the basics of blocking and tackling as a business?

For example, Gillette, currently ranked #7 in Havas Group’s 2019 Meaningful Brands Study, recently launched an ad campaign to leverage the #MeToo movement in a very memorable and emotional TV spot that evolved its decades-old mantra, “the best a man can get,” to “the best men can be.” The ad looked to encourage men to better model their behavior to respect all members of society. The campaign certainly succeeded in getting attention and provoking a response. However, as is often the case today, the public was polarized: some people loved how it called out the role of men in society, while others saw it as preaching to men unnecessarily.

Whichever side one took, the campaign certainly cemented a deeper social relationship with women, who interestingly are the chief buyers of razors in most US households: an exceedingly smart social game connected to a solid business driver.

At the same time, some have observed that Gillette’s new social game was a direct response to arch-rival Unilever’s acquisition of Dollar Shave Club, a decidedly all-male brand that has been a huge growth engine in Unilever’s quest to forge its own unique social game with younger male shavers.

Positioned as a membership club, for just a few dollars a month, Dollar Shave Club’s social game reaches deep into the “man cave” and taps into primal male grooming habits that reside at the intersection of branding and bravado.

Regardless of which shaving camp one falls into, it is clear that brand survival today may require developing social game strategies that are authentic to the brand, smart for the business, and never, ever erode the brand’s treasured equity that it has built up over time.

"If your employees are not on board, why should anyone else be?"

Establishing an effective social game should be driven by 10 key considerations that can ultimately assure what is the last brand standing:

Do your homework: Research can identify the core issues brand’s audiences care most about. Get to know these well and the reasons behind them. There is always a story behind the story.

Focus on what matters: When aligning your brand with any social issues, focus on those things that are not only true, but both true and important. Your target audiences can always tell you what they believe is true about your brand, but it is only the ones that are true and important that will penetrate the marketplace and become enduring.

See your audience as dynamic: As your brand’s audiences age, their allegiances to social issues will change and evolve over time. Always stay connected to them to understand those shifts.

Have a standard: Your brand’s social game must be clear so that people get it right away, credible so that it sounds authentic coming from your brand, and compelling so people are proud to associate with that brand.

Avoid fads: Make sure the basis for your brand’s social game is not a trend, but instead has enduring properties.

Know that every action has a reaction: You brand’s competitors are smart and they will likely engage in a similar strategy—always try to think ahead and predict what the competitive response will be to your social game, if possible.

Brand inward: Stand for what matters to your employees, who are your ultimate brand ambassadors. If your employees are not on board, why should anyone else be?

Have a Plan B: Social issues (and the personalities associated with them) can turn unfavorable, be met with resistance, or experience asymmetric opposition. Be prepared for these shifts with a backup plan.

Go deep: If a brand stands for everything, then it stands for nothing. Choose social issues that your brand can anchor to authentically and be quickly understood.

Know your end game: Ask yourself what level of investment, resources, and time you are willing (or expect) to dedicate to your social game. What is its shelf life? When should it be retired?

David is the Managing Partner at Conran Design Group New York. Reach him at 203-227-3000.

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