The Marketing Philosophy That Works From The Bottom Up—And Has The Results To Prove It

Success doesn't always trickle down. It's time to build a core base of customers, and forge relationships that will last a lifetime.

Marketing’s past is one built on interruption, repetition, and share of mind. The focus always had to be on “scale.” To push product, it was assumed that tens of millions of potential consumers needed to be reached before brands could resonate with enough buyers.

Today, people are connected. They can search, review products, share openly, and research religiously. Information is at their fingertips, and fans actively opt-in to many of brand’s most impactful channels. The top-down approach of marketing’s past was not created for such a world.

So what do marketers need to do to win in the post-interruption world? They need to engage people from the bottom-up, as some brands and businesses have done successfully for decades.

Take the music industry, where dismal early career budgets force musicians to build support one show and one fan at a time. After becoming stars, musicians still understand that people are their biggest asset. They continue to rely on fans and enthusiastic street teams who can help get the word out about releases and local performances more effectively than ever before through social technology.

Bottoms-up marketing is not a new formula for politicians either. Political candidates' success has long depended on their ability to rally support from concerned citizens. In 2008 and 2012, President Obama rode his ground game into the White House by mobilizing a well-organized army of neighborhood advocates made substantially more powerful by their ability to communicate with their personal networks online.

As social technology continues to shift consumer behavior and information, all companies will need to leverage people to build and grow their brands. Here are four tips to help marketers win the future by turning consumers into a valuable asset that supports the brand from the bottom-up:

1. Focus on the Experience

In a world where people share their lives openly via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Pinterest, and other tools, experiences are media. Marketers will need people to talk about their brand, as well as create and share brand content to remain a relevant part of the conversation.

Starbucks is a great example of a business that was built on experience prior to social media. From 1987-1997 during its formative growth years, Starbucks spent less than $10 million on advertising. Back then the brand’s in-store experience did all the talking. Imagine how fast Starbucks would have grown had social media been around to amplify positive consumer experiences.

2. Stand for Something More

Emotion is perhaps the strongest motivator when getting people to connect and share information. In Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Berger describes how emotional resonance is one of 6 key factors that drive content virality. As he states, “When we care, we share.”

Livestrong and Toms shoes built big brands by creating movements around emotional causes. While most brands support a charity or cause, they largely fail to establish cause marketing as a central tenet of their marketing efforts. Spending the vast majority of their budget on mass media advertising that likely fails to mention the brand’s philanthropic support only serves to distance brands from these efforts. Instead, brands could utilize this money to mobilize people who care about the cause and integrate their philanthropy with product sales so consumers can take part.

3. Let the Product Do the Talking

Sure, retail experiences and emotional causes can closely touch consumers, but what about CPG products? How do you get people to care about soap, toilet paper, or even packaged food?

Method took on traditional CPG giants as a bootstrap business that relied heavily on creating disruptive products that people could talk about and relate to, allowing the brand to overcome their drastic disadvantage in spend. Eye-catching packaging popped off the shelf and led people to show off products in their home.

Even more importantly, Method rallied people around the health and safety concerns that its eco-friendly products helped consumers avoid. The aptly named People Against Dirty movement got consumers to rally around a product that didn’t contain the same hazardous materials found in many competitive products at the time with much success.

4. Understand and Amplify Your People

80% of content is now user generated. People are now some of the Internet’s best storytellers, and brands can often only attempt to fuel or supplement consumer creativity. The question every CMO and brand manager should now be asking is: Who are my best people? Followed by: How do I identify, recognize, and build deep relationships with these people?

True North, a Frito-Lay brand targeting boomers, chose to let their target demo, Boomers, tell their collective stories to create a relevant, personal message to their audience. The brand encouraged Boomers to share their “True North” or what their one true purpose in life was. With an extensive social media campaign, consumers shared their stories with one story being selected to be featured in a 60-second commercial directed by Helen Hunt and shown during the Academy Awards.

Rather than attempt to tell Boomers what was important and what their brand stood for, True North chose to create a movement that enabled their people to tell their stories. The result was highly exceeded sales goals and development of a $100 million+ revenue brand in less than 2 years.

Shifting Philosophy

Going Bottoms-Up doesn’t mean a drastic shift in budget and activity… right away.

It does mean shifting your philosophy away from one that depends on winning mindshare from an inattentive audience through a constant push of brand messages. It also means focusing on creating more meaningful relationships with fewer people who matter more.

Successful brands 10 years from now will have much closer relationships with their core consumers. They will learn to leverage this core to reach those otherwise uninterested. They will focus on building a brand one person at a time knowing that marketing cannot replace or surmount the importance of creating valuable products, experiences, and meaning in people’s lives.

[Image: Flickr user Luke Ma]

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