We speak a lot about the value of online engagement these days—how important it is for a business to interact frequently and build meaningful relationships with its customers. But do customers really want to interact more? What sort of relationship (if any) do they want to have with a brand?
I found the answer a little surprising, because it runs counter to some pretty common marketing wisdom.
It turns out that frequent online interactions may not be the best tool for building customer relationships and driving engagement. According to the Harvard Business Review, customers feel most engaged, and buy more, when they feel that they share values with a brand. When they can align themselves with the “higher purpose” of a brand.
Customers care what you believe. Or as the Harvard Business Review puts it:
Of the consumers in our study who said they have a brand relationship, 64% cited shared values as the primary reason. That’s far and away the largest driver. Meanwhile, only 13% cited frequent interactions with the brand as a reason for having a relationship.
In recent years, many brands have adopted a “mission-driven” attitude in order to build a more authentic relationship with customers. (Southwest Airlines seeks to democratize air travel; Patagonia remains committed to environmentalism; etc.) One of the most successful of these brands is, of course, Dove.
Launched in 2004, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign strives to “create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety.” This mission rings true for many women and is reflected in Dove’s advertising, such as their latest online video: “Real Beauty Sketches.”
In the video, several women are invited to participate in a “social experiment” in which a forensic artist sketches them based only on their self-descriptions. Then, he draws each woman again, only this time, he bases the sketch on how someone else describes her appearance. The whole thing is set to wistful, gentle piano music, and in each case, the women agree that they look more beautiful in the second sketch, as described by someone else. The video is clearly designed to play on emotions: the women shed tears as they are confronted with evidence of how they have undervalued themselves and their appearance. Indeed, the video seems to have touched a nerve, eliciting powerful responses on social media.
More than 2,000 people “liked” the video on the Dove Facebook page and more than 1,000 have shared it so far. Dozens of my friends shared with video with the preface, “Every woman should watch this video.” “We are all more beautiful than we think!” Clearly the video engaged viewers on a personal level.
While Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” sparked a wildfire of conversation online (including a hilarious parody video)— generating a ton of publicity for Dove in the process— not everyone was on board with the video’s message. Tumblr blogger, Jazz Brice, challenged the video, saying, “at the heart of it all is that beauty is still what defines women. It is a little hypocritical.” She makes an excellent point, I think, and offers a perspective worth discussing.
Still my question is this: Will those customers who applauded this video go out and actually buy Dove products? Will they be converted to loyal Dove devotees? And will the women who thought the video missed the mark steer clear of all things Dove in the future? In other words, how will Dove’s values—its marketing emphasis on “Real Beauty”—influence its sales in 2013? (Back in 2009, at any rate, the “Real Beauty” campaign returned $3 for every $1 spent.) Personally, I’m of the opinion that while the “higher purpose” of a company does inform branding efforts, and may also build customer relationships, the bottom line is that we still have to deliver a product or service that the customer really wants. Something that satisfies an unfulfilled need or desire. And perhaps, offering an irresistible discount now and then doesn’t hurt either.
What do you think? Can shared values build relationships and drive sales? Join the conversation and leave a comment!