Think of consumers as people, and then forge relationships that are authentic, generous and experiential, says the company’s global marketing officer, and surprising amounts of product will sell.
Marketers must stop “telling and selling” and instead forge honest, authentic relationships with people if they are to build market share in today’s fast-moving media and consumer marketplaces, said Jim Stengel, global marketing officer for Procter & Gamble.
Speaking at the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ 14th annual Media Conference in Las Vegas, Stengel, who has been lauded for reinvigorating P&G since his arrival at the company, said the first step in building such relationships with consumers is to overcome their profound distrust of business and institutions. The way to do that, he said, is to be authentic, generous and experiential.
This can mean focusing on the people behind a brand, such as the company did after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc around the Folger’s coffee plant in New Orleans. P&G took extraordinary efforts to reach out to its New Orleans employees after the disaster, making sure they were safe and assuring them they still had jobs. The result is a series of videos in which those employees talk about feeling safe and seeing one another on the job again. Some of that video formed the nucleus of an ad campaign that enabled the company, which couldn’t get Folgers into stores for weeks after the storm, to regain its market share only three months after it was back in production again, Stengel said.
“We connect with people and they reward us by buying product in record numbers,” he said.
Another way to build trust is to be generous, following the example of companies like Starbucks, which gives away used coffee grounds for compost piles, and Apple, which conducts free seminars in its stores, Stengel said. “The best relationships are giving relationships,” he said, noting that P&G products that have adopted this mentality have experienced “record sales gains.”
The third way to build trust is to give up some control to consumers, whose opinion about a product is more important to other consumers than anything a company itself can say.
This means participating in the user-generated content phenomenon and word of mouth advertising, Stengel said. The notion of co-creation is about more than online contests for consumers to create advertising,” he said. “There is a bigger opportunity to listen and take a stronger cue from consumers in all aspects of our branding.”
Stengel, who had given the advertising and marketing industries a grade of C-minus when he addressed the AAAA Media Conference three years ago, said the industry has since boosted its grade to a B. In many cases, he said, marketers have made their advertising more engaging than it was three years ago, and, despite predictions of TV’s demise in the face of new media, people are watching more TV than ever.
“Building relationships through our brands is the future of marketing,” Stengel said. “It’s a matter of seeking to understand the other person’s actions rather than controlling their actions.”