What if your customers wanted to jump on your brand’s bandwagon, not because they thought it was better in quality than your competitors, but because they wanted to become colleagues, friends, partners or teammates in a common venture? Think of the implications of that relationship. The relationship would move from one of teaching and persuading to a teammate relationship working to achieve a goal. Which would result in a more meaningful, more positive, more permanent connection?

There are two perspectives that provide routes to the “join the brand” metaphor

The Sweet Spot Program

A sweet spot occurs when a brand doesn’t just tell a customer about their brand or product’s benefits but rather looks to what the customer’s interests, activities, and passions are – the sweet spot. Then it creates or finds a program that is responsive to that sweet spot and becomes an active partner in that program.

The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is a program with substance that is related to the experience of their customers with breast cancer and their appreciation for an active lifestyle. It is a program that reaches out for joiners as participants or supporters. The Pampers’s Love Sleep & Play campaign provides a go-to place for personalized baby care information covering the five stages of a baby’s life. It recognizes that customers are not really interested in diapers but welcome a partner in their baby care adventure.

A “sweet spot” program does not have to be created. It can be an established program as long as the brand truly is an active partner. Think of Home Depot’s association with “Habitat for Humanity” where Home Depot partners by providing materials, experienced workman and visibility through in-store signage and other home building programs. As a result, the Home Depot brand stimulates an association for Home for Humanity.

The Concept of a Higher Purpose

It is amazing how many organizations have adopted a higher purpose supported by meaningful programs. Firms are motivated by a recognition that the private sector needs to address society issues because they can and should, because employees respond to meaning in their professional life, and because a worthwhile segment of customers respect, like, and even get passionate about a brand that shares a higher purpose and associated actions with them.

Unilever is in the forefront of activating a set of higher purposes that have made a difference. For example, Unilever has a set of purposes that includes sustainability (the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan), giving a better future for children (oral health and nutritional programs), and attacking third world diseases (the hand-washing program that reached over 200 million people in 2012), enhancing women self-esteem (Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty) and more. Each of these campaigns and movements reach out to a relevant segment that can actively join the Unilever effort by adjusting attitudes, changing behavior and talking about the ideas.

Sustainability may be the most common higher purpose. Unlikely firms such as Walmart, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are making a significant difference in sustainability and offering customers the chance to “join” their efforts by changing their own buying and living habits. Whole Foods Market has a set of higher purposes that include striving to provide the highest quality natural and organic products, to “delight and nourish customers, to serve and support the local communities, and to celebrate the sheer love and joy of food.”

Anyone that is passionate about cooking with healthy ingredients can “join” the Whole Foods Market quest, a qualitatively different perspective than simply preferring Whole Foods Market stores because they have organic foods. The concept of “joining a brand” is a powerful way to energize concepts like customer sweet spot programs and higher purpose brands. It is a route to a brand relationship that will often stimulate brand building that can create and enable a core loyal base of customer. That’s the best type of brand equity.

I write more on these subjects in my latest book, Aaker on Branding. The concept of “joining” came to me by an offhand comment by Andy England, CMO at Miller/Coors, who was explaining the popularity of the retro Miller Lite can from the 1975 days.

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