Traditionally, companies created brands and then attracted customers, who, if they came in sufficient numbers and remained loyal, sustained the company. But smart companies these days flip that approach, according to bestselling marketing author Marty Neumeier. They create customers, not brands. Those customers, in turn, build brands that sustain the company.
He calls it The Brand Flip in his latest book, and says while it's a new approach that is increasingly going to dominate marketing, it's actually a very old concept. In 1954, management thinker Peter Drucker declared the first purpose of a business is to create a customer. "But how do you do it? That's the trick," Mr. Neumeier said in an interview.
You don't start by reaching out to a large group of people who seem like a possible target, segment out the best slices to attract and then send a flurry of messages. Instead, you need to design a world they will wish to inhabit. After they try it out, they will invite friends to join them.
In this process, Mr. Neumeier says you need to pay attention to 10 truths that require changes to your thinking:
1. Power has shifted
Stop focusing on the product and your corporate needs. Understanding the customer identity – who they are, what they want – is now all important.
2. Customers crave meaning
People want to know if they buy a product, what will that say about them – and, even deeper, what does it make them? In most of the developed world, Mr. Neumeier argues we have satisfied our lower-level or basic requirements on Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" and are now knocking on the door to the pyramid's top level, where meaning and self-actualization are dominant.
Marketers used to sell features, and then benefits, and more recently experiences. These days, flip to meaning and belonging. Also, flip from thinking of tangibles to the intangibles people desire.
3. Brands build identities
Everything people buy helps nurture their identity. Customers should see themselves and what they want to be in the brand. The flip here is from authority to authenticity – the fact your company may be large and powerful isn't as important to people as whether it's authentic, which starts with purpose.
And if your purpose is to maximize profit, you're heading in the wrong direction. Your purpose should be aimed squarely at helping your customers. He notes Intel may make computer chips, but its purpose is to change the world.
4. People hate being 'sold'
"If you try to sell, you're doomed," Mr. Neumeier says flatly. You must make the flip from transactions to relationships. Aim for not just a single sale, but for a much deeper bond with your customers.
5. People buy in 'tribes'
Mr. Neumeier introduced the notion of "tribes" – a widely used catchphrase these days – in his first book, The Brand Gap, back in 2003. A tribe is a group of people who share interests and information, in this case tied to your brand. Traditionally, in segmenting markets, brands have been working with quite different people. "You can trip yourself up if you try adding more than one tribe, particularly if they are contradictory," he cautions. "The standard rule is one brand for one tribe. If you are supporting a second tribe, then you have to think of creating a second brand."
6. Tribes do battle
The battle is no longer between companies, but between tribes. So think carefully about the tribe you are attracting and which ones you won't go after, because they have different interests. If nobody hates you, you're not a tribe.
7. Get the strongest tribe
Some tribes won't lead you to success. So look for a tribe that people look up to and want to join – and can help you grow successfully. Apple, for example, went after people who were technologically sophisticated, with whom other people want to associate. The flip here is from a concern about creating better products to attracting better customers. The nature of your customers determines the future of your company. "Pick your tribe well," he says.
8. Tribes connect through tech
These days, people connect to like-minded individuals and the products they cherish through technology.
9. Multiple channels rule
You have to be where your customers are, which means no single medium will do the trick.
10. Fluid brands win
The flip is from developing static brands to liquid brands. Brands need to grow, spread and flow into new areas, using the social media channels available. "Every brand is a running narrative, a story in progress whose hero is the customer," Mr. Neumeier writes.
The most important flip, he says, is from product to meaning. With that must come a change from selling people to enrolling them in your purpose and tribe.
Also, he feels you must shift your approach to customers from punishment to protection: Airlines punish customers with endless surcharges. Blockbuster punished its customers with late fees; Netflix protected them from such unnecessary pain. Keep these brand flips in mind if you want success in the future.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter