When it comes to branding, marketers more often than not have a strong desire to be the first ones to the party. They want to set the trends of the future or ensure their two cents are heard.
What many brands don’t realize, however, is that there is a wealth of power to be had by determining the conversations that already exist where their brand can have a voice. While owning the space can be smart depending on the situation, knowing when to own versus when to invest is genius. Instead of adding to the conversation in real-time, brands must first build a strong Editorial Authority and then add to the conversation at the right time.
Why is this so important? In a heavily saturated market, this is what makes brands relevant.
We refer to this relevancy found through Editorial Authority as Conversational Capital: the non-financial social assets that modern consumers use to determine a brand’s market worth. This type of currency isn’t awarded to the brands that shout out promotional messages but rather to the ones that have their finger on the pulse of the cultural landscape as it stands today. These brands are aware of what interests society at large and take a stand on what matters most to their brand and their consumers in a way that extends beyond the products and services they offer.
Take Ben & Jerry’s, for example.
There is no lack of choices when it comes to desserts, sweet novelties or even ice creams specifically. And while Ben & Jerry’s has always been popular for its tasty and creatively-monikered products, it has found relevancy with modern consumers thanks to its commitment to culture through its Editorial Authority. From its start, it has made an effort to create linked prosperity for everyone that’s connected to its business, from employees, to farmers, to customers, to friends. Its brand is focused on three key components: product mission, to make fantastic ice cream; economic mission, to manage the company for sustainable financial growth; and social mission, to use the company in innovative ways to ensure the world becomes a better place.
Although the brand has proved its Editorial Authority regarding these missions numerous times, it recently resonated deeply with Millennial and Gen Z consumers following its decision to publicly stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition to launching an entirely new line of flavors named to shed light on the issue, the brand expressed support through a thorough and well-written piece published to its website and owned media sites. This piece made clear that the brand understood the entirety of the issue and took action in alignment with its purpose. As a result, it obtained additional conversational capital by asking its customers to take their own stand:
“We ask people to be open to understanding these issues, and not to reflexively retreat to our current beliefs. Change happens when people are willing to listen and hear the struggles of their neighbor, putting aside preconceived notions and truly seeking to understand and grow. We’ll be working hard on that, and ask you to as well.”
By taking a stand on an issue that matters to its brand fans, Ben & Jerry’s didn’t attempt to own the conversation but rather played an important role within it. This builds the conversational capital of the brand because it not only starts conversations, but also takes part in ones that already exist — adding to its overall cultural value.
Brands aiming to obtain their own Conversational Capital must first determine their Editorial Authority and then ask:
- What are my brand rituals?
- What are my brand icons?
- Who endorses my brand?
- Does my brand bridge image and experience?
- How is my brand socializing its brand idea and purpose?
The answers to these questions will help determine the right path a brand needs to take to resonate in a market where taking a real stance on societal and cultural issues is required and builds value and non-financial capital for the overall brand.