Stop Focusing on Trying to Go Viral and Instead Take a Stand

Consumers want to connect with a brand

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Taco Bell gets it. Only in the zany and slightly questionable world of Taco Bell where the fourth meal exists would the Wild Naked Chicken Chalupa be considered a viable food choice. But in the world of branding and marketing, Taco Bell is the gold standard. It has done what many other brands know but are unable to execute on. They have figured out how to find and speak to their tribe, the customers who become loyal and passionate brand advocates.

Identifying the right audience has always been a core part of the advertising and marketing puzzle, but as with every industry, digital media has changed the rules of the game. It’s no longer enough to look to the bottom line to determine your most important audience; you have to foster relationships with your loudest allies. And while many brands have a general idea of who their tribe could be, they don’t always know how to talk to them.

So, what’s going wrong? Marketing mishaps or disappointments are often caused by two critical and very basic core issues. The first is that brands are caught up with going viral. Any expert will tell you that there’s no template for virality and shooting to simply go viral is a misguided dream that distracts from focusing on your core messaging and story. But brands are still tempted by the shiny promise of millions of impressions and sometimes try to replicate others’ successes. Just because a stunt worked for Taco Bell doesn’t mean it will work for a brand like Pret a Manger or Subway because it’s not the right fit for their core messages and won’t connect with their tribes in the same way.

Brands who taken the time to sit down and distill their core story are the ones who will be most successful.

The second core issue that consistently plagues brands is something that seems so basic that is often overlooked entirely: They don’t know what they stand for. Understanding who you are as a company or your “why” is the first step. Once you’ve solidified your purpose, you can identify your tribe, or the “who.” Only then should you determine the story that you want to focus on, or the “what.”

Distilling your why as a brand isn’t easy. Think of it as your elevator pitch or your thesis. It should be specific, clear and applicable to all departments or verticals within your organization. While the who and what might be different every time, each story that you tell and audience that you reach should link back to your brand’s purpose.

In a world of constant access, social media and digital advertisements, it’s an understatement to say it’s easy to fade to the background. A clear message is crucial since our attention spans have now shrunk to only 12 seconds. Brands who taken the time to sit down and distill their core story are the ones who will be most successful.

Simply saying something is no longer enough; brands need to show it. Imagery is being shared and reacted to faster than words, thanks to the ubiquity of social media and our insatiable thirst for content. Keeping visual language loyal to your core message strengthens its impact and your following.

Airbnb is a great example of a brand that has married its visual language to its message. In the last decade, the company has not only brought the concept of home-sharing to the mainstream and revolutionized personal travel but has also built its brand image around acceptance and comfort for every kind of traveler. And these messages are apparent in Airbnb’s visual language. The company strategically uses composition and color to elicit the same emotional connection it tries to instill in its mission. Cozy, relaxed scenes showing togetherness and new connections are accompanied with words like “we” and “our” to create a sense of belonging.

The brand’s consistency around acceptance has cemented the company as a hospitality industry giant while also enabling it to take a clear stance on topical issues. Airbnb’s #WeAccept campaign conveys its crystal clear message that everyone, regardless of who they are or where they are from, belongs, with the execution to back it up. And it worked: #WeAccept is an award-winning campaign that generated over 87 million earned impressions, tens of thousands of shares on social media and perhaps most importantly, more than 15,000 volunteers committed to taking in displaced persons around the world.

So ask yourself: Is your brand taking that critical extra step and letting its tribe guide the way? It’s not enough to simply grow an audience. Forget about going viral. Crystallize your message and take a stand. Accept the challenge.