Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why? The Right Question that Builds Brands in Social Media

Photo courtesy of @EmeraldIslePR
Yesterday I furnished a keynote presentation at the PR and Social Media Summit. My speech was about the power of asking "Why?," a question that leads to success in both business and social media.

In my five years of research, consulting and managing social media, I have been asked thousands of questions. Where? (Where do I post?  Where do I engage?), How? (How do I listen?  How do I measure?  How do I find influencers?) and today's hot topic, given the need for content to feed the social media beast, What? (What do I say?  Do I post pictures, videos, text? Am I funny or serious? Am I professional or casual? Should I offer discounts and contests to lure new fans?)

What I almost never hear asked is Why? Not simply the "small whys" such as "Why is my brand on Facebook" and "Why should anyone care to engage with my brand?," but also the "great, big whys," such as "Why does my business exist?," "Why should people buy from me and not my competitors?," and most importantly, "Why should anyone care about my brand?"

In the deck below, I present the basic tenets of two terrific books--Simon Sinek's "Start With Why," and "Can't Buy Me Like" by Bob Garfield and Doug Levy. While most companies and employees know the "what" and the "how," very few know the "why." Successful companies do something different--they start with "why," and in so doing, they give employees and customers a reason to care. 

The classic example of starting with "why" is Apple, which declares "We believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently"--that's the "why." Then it answers the "how" or Unique Selling Proposition question: "The way we do this is by making our products beautifully designed and simple to use." And finally it arrives at the "what": "We make great computers." 

Source: Asymco
Of course, makers of Windows PCs make great computers, also, but by starting with "why," Apple is able to command rabid loyalty. While this has not led to a predominant position in the PC marketplace--Apple only commands 7% market share--it does allow Apple to make substantially higher margins on its computers. Apple earns more profit from computer sales than the top five Windows PC makers combined.

The fact Apple starts with "why" has also allowed the company to expand their product line; while Window PC brands have tried and largely failed to crack the smartphone, tablet and music player markets, Apple has enjoyed considerable success in these product categories. Such is Apple's success that today it could use just its cash on hand and short-term assets to buy (if it cared to) News Corp, Gannett, the New York Times, Staples, Office Depot, Office Max and CDW--and Apple would still have enough cash left over to purchase a ticket to the top of the Empire State Building for every man, woman and child in the United States. That's the power of "Why?"

Apple is not alone, of course. Havas Media produces a Meaningful Brands Index that measures the impact of brands in 12 different areas of well-being, such as health, happiness, relationships and community. It finds that only 9% of brands are perceived by US consumers as making a meaningful difference in people's lives, and these same consumers would not care if 92% of brands disappeared. It may seem obvious to point out, but if people do not care whether your brand lives or dies, then it is not earning loyalty, it cannot command a price premium and it is constantly at risk of being replaced. In fact, Havas finds that "meaningful" brands outperform the market by 120%. 

The lesson of "Start With Why," "Can't Buy Me Like," and the Havas study is this:

"People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

In my presentation, I suggest a three-step process to success in social media and in business: It isn't necessarily an easy process, because for many organizations it requires profound change:
  1. Discover a High Purpose:  This is not merely about cleaning up a local park this week and donating time to a food pantry next week. Having a purpose is a never-wavering "north star" that guides decisions, inspires employees and gives people a reason to care.
  2. Make it Real: For too many companies, their "purpose" begins and ends with charitable giving and posts made on social media. Today's savvy consumers can easily see the lack of commitment on the part of many companies, which is why it is vital that purpose be made real--if it doesn't change the way the company works, what it does, or how it spends money in the long-term, then the purpose is merely window dressing. You cannot merely say your purpose, you have to be your purpose.
  3. Live it in Social Media: If you discover a purpose and make it real, social media becomes easy. All the challenges and frustrations brands face today trying to develop a sufficient flow of content for social media evaporates once purpose is made real. 
In the deck, I furnish examples of five brands that followed this process to considerable success:
  1. U by Kotex has committed to changing the way the world thinks about the word “vagina.” Because young women feel a stigma associated with their bodies and their periods, they are afraid to ask questions and are prone to believing myths, many of them unhealthy. The brand makes its purpose real by hiring panels of advocates, health experts, moms and teen peers to candidly answer health questions on its website; the brand also allows young women to order a free bracelet declaring "I know," signifying their knowledge of the facts about their bodies and vaginal health. The brand lives this purpose in social media by giving young women social media "conversation starters" that encourage dialog or bust dangerous myths. As a result of this effort, the brand has received 3 million requests for free product samples and increased market share from 4% to 7.8%.
  2. Barclaycard Ring gave consumers a reason to care by involving them in every decision about the company's new credit card product. While 65% of product launches from established firms fail, Crowdtap found that 98% of consumers are likely or highly likely to buy a product they helped ideate. Barclaycard makes their mission real by allowing customers to vote on product features such as late fees and engaging in a dialog about why the card does not offer rewards. (Answer: Rewards cost money, and the Barclaycard Ring has an interest rate of just 8%!) The community is even permitted to see the credit card's financial results--if the financial goals are surpassed, the community can decide how that excess is used. This sort of transparency and collaboration earns Barclaycard Ring substantial positive sentiment in social media, and the company estimates it enjoys an annualized benefit of $10 million due to higher customer retention and lower complaints.
  3. Secret Clinical Strength has discovered its mission: Fighting bullying. The brand makes their commitment real by holding national events and inviting educators, parents and girls join the livestream to learn about the impact of bullying. The brand also makes PowerPoint decks available so that educators can share data and tips in the classroom. Secret also gives girls downloadable "mantras" they can print and hang in their bedrooms and lockers, reminding them to stand up for someone today. In social media, Secret encourages girls to post pictures of their pinky painted blue, a sign they are committed to #GangUpForGood. The brand has earned more than a million appearances in fans' Facebook news feeds, and the clinical family of SKUs, the products associated with Mean Stinks, grew 20% year over year.
  4. Chipotle has committed itself to increasing the integrity of the food we eat. The brand makes it real by posting how the company's restaurants source ingredients--local, organic, pasture-based dairy or responsibly-raised meat. But the way the brand really makes their mission real is by publicly admitting where it falls short of its own ideals; under the heading "always room for improvement," the brand conveys which ingredients are genetically modified or contain preservatives or hydrogenated oils. (How many of your companies are willing to publicize the ways it falls short and is still striving to achieve its mission?) In social media, Chipotle has engaged millions with evocative online videos such as the award-winning "Back to the Start" and recent social campaign, "The Scarecrow." The outcome of these efforts is that Chipotle enjoys some of the highest same-store growth in the restaurant business while competitor Qdoba is shuttering many of its corporate-owned outlets.
  5. And finally, my former employer, USAA, has a mission that has been its obsession since the company was founded in 1922: The company serves those who serve in the United States military. Its mission is so real to USAA that employees can recite it, word for word. One of the ways USAA makes this mission real is by providing a week-long New Employee Orientation to every new hire. One of the exercises during NEO is to put yourself in the shoes of someone receiving deployment orders: In two weeks you will be shipping out to a dangerous corner of the world, so how can you help your family prepare not just for your absence but for the possibility you will not return? USAA also brings its mission to social media, where it strives to answer every question, criticism and compliment within two business hours. The result of this effort is apparent: USAA earns the most trust from its customers across 246 companies in 19 industries according to the Temkin Trust Ratings, and USAA Bank's Net Promoter Score of 83% is the highest score among more than 200 brands across 22 sectors.
These five brands demonstrate the power of "Why?" In the end, making money is not your company's mission--it is an outcome and not the answer to the reason "Why?" Having a purpose and making it real gives employees a reason to perform their best, gives consumers a reason to care and gives customers a reason to buy.

My deck is below, and if you're interested in what resonated with the audience, check out the Storify stream of tweets gathered by Dr. Daradirek "Gee" Ekachai.

As always, your feedback is very welcome!


Anonymous said...

What a great presentation at the PRSMS last week. Awesome insight. Asking "Why?" makes complete sense. You can see why Apple (and other companies that ask "Why") has found so much success. Thanks again for your insight!

Augie Ray said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I am so glad you enjoyed the presentation. I hope you found it inspiring and helpful!

Mrs. M. said...

Thanks for blogging about your keynote, Augie. Sorry I couldn't see you present.

Is Apple successful because they "start with why," or because it was a company started at the right time by a one-in-a-million autocratic visionary who surrounded himself by the right people?

That's not to question the value of asking "why"--but I wonder how many companies will now chase their "why" in long brainstorming meetings and emerge with little more than a glittery corporate slogan that will in no way make them as successful or visionary as Apple.

(I also wish these some of these social case studies would focus on successful companies that *don't* produce sexy consumer products or services--yet generate revenue and employ thousands of people. What's the "why" of an industrial fan manufacturer? Does their "story" matter to their B2B clients? To their employees? )

Augie Ray said...


Thanks for the comment.

First of all, I'd suggest these are hardly sexy products--antiperspirant, tampons, credit cards and insurance are about as boring as it can get. Purpose and mission can make the boring interesting, can't it?

As for Apple, I absolutely think purpose matters. Apple's success was far more than a single right product or a "glittery corporate slogan."

And I think you hit the nail on the head when you speak about a "glittery corporate slogan." The point is companies have to make it real. It has to change something--the way the company works or how it goes to market. If all it is is a slogan, than it really is NOT a purpose!