The Nitty Gritty:
- How big brands are changing to embrace the way their consumers are believing
- What brands should do in response to these new “woke” consumers who use their purchasing power to make an impact
- Why the need to change rather than just a desire to change is the true motivation for a brand to update their strategy
I had the privilege of talking to Alicia Johnson this week on the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast about the current shift by big brands to be more transparent about the values behind their company. She and her husband and business partner Hal, a media artist, have spent the last 20 years at the helm of Johnson + Wolverton, a brand boutique that focuses on brand turnarounds. They have completed projects for BBC America, Jaguar, Cadillac, Comedy Central and more.
Brands Communicate Their Core Values
I started to see that happening—a big brand changing to embrace the way their consumers are believing.
– Alicia Johnson
In her work with a number of luxury brands, Alicia has noticed a shift, especially in the last six months, with people coming together around what they believe in. Consumers started to literally define their impact through their purchases. In one example, brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus pulled their advertising from Fox News amid the charges of workplace sexual harassment by Bill O’Reilly. It wasn’t until consumers started pushing on the brands that advertised on the show that the network had to deal with it. People are using their money to support what they believe in and the brands that believe the way they do.
Brands and Business Leaders should be Genuine
You can’t put a face on something that isn’t real.
– Alicia Johnson
Business owners and leaders should be clear on what they value and confidently move that forward, just as several brands did in this year’s Super Bowl ads that were super aggressive positioning around values, ethics and choice.
The most important thing a brand or a person can do is be genuine, because “you can’t put a face on something that isn’t real.” However, Alicia counsels brands to be very conscious of whether or not they desire to live in a political space as a business. As a company, if you don’t believe that you want to be there, you need to take a step back and look at some decisions you are making.
“My recommendation to clients is that they’re more thoughtful and move more slowly,” said Alicia. Even for fast-moving brands, reaction time needs to be much more measured. You are better off just taking a breath. It’s when you step back and get into product development or long-term campaigning, that it’s important to look at the shifts in overt alliances to ethics.
Brand Strategy Shifts when there is a Need to Change
When I’m creating strategies, I’m creating an outline for a brand story.
– Alicia Johnson
Change is really hard on an organization, so Alicia and Hal are typically only brought in to help guide a new strategy for brands when something really is not working.
In looking at making a big change for a brand you need to look at WHY and WHAT do we have permission to do? Oftentimes, brands just like people, get lost. They forget about what’s really awesome about themselves and what got them going in the first place. Sometimes it’s just coming back to the core. But sometimes the business that was started doesn’t exist anymore. So, they have to reinvent themselves.
To hear the entire conversation I had with Alicia, tune in to the full episode. We delve further into this unique time we’re living in, how she and Hal learned to take time off and preserve time for personal projects and her own creative project, Positano, a multimedia novel.
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