3 Ways To Make The Most Of Your Brand’s Social Capital
Posted on November 30, 2015
Written by Hunter Thurman
Every brand has a ‘social business model’ – whether marketers recognize it or not.
In my work with both big brands and startups alike, a common question is pondered in strategy sessions and hallway chats, alike: “Should we consider a social business model?”
What we marketers mean by this, of course, is should we do what brands like Tom’s, Ethos, or Patagonia have done (and done with great success) and make ‘doing good’ part of our brand. But what marketers should really be pondering is more like…
“What is the social business model of OUR brand?”
Because there’s already a social role your brand is playing – you have no choice. It harkens to the adage we’ve all heard that “humans are fundamentally social beings.” While that’s usually interpreted to mean that people prefer the company of other people to isolation, there’s far deeper relevance, and it’s likely the basis of whether a person does or does not identify with your brand and products.
This comes down to the human hard-wiring ingrained within us, and is explained by evolutionary psychology. Basic survival instincts compel a person to join a tribe for safety, security, and access to mates to carry on the biological mandate of procreation. Once positioned in that tribe, he or she is compelled to elevate his or her status for ever-improving safety, security, and choice of mates.
It’s easy to observe in everyday life. The whole of first-world societies around the globe revolve around the individual mandate to elevate one’s status within the tribe. Whether it’s excelling in the boardroom, on the sports field, or in the neighborhood parent’s group, we’re driven by the requirement to build our social capital.
So your audience of would-be buyers is steeped in social capital no matter how your brand is positioned, who uses it, or when they use it. Sage marketers will leverage this simple human truth to their advantage. It’s not easy, but there are some simple questions to ask yourself in order to define your brand’s unique social capital…
1. In the situations in which your brand is used, what social capital is most relevant?
What’s the use case you envision for your brand? As evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller would say, this situational consideration relates to the conspicuous consumption the user displays to his or her tribe.
If you’re making a new energy drink to help young professionals stay in-the-zone at the office, the social capital she or he is seeking is to appear to be an up-and-coming ass-kicker. NOT the best skater in the skate park. Design and position your brand accordingly.
2. To whom around the user is your brand most relevant?
How will your brand help build social relevance for the user? While many marketers think about what benefit their products can provide for the user, fewer ask themselves the more relevant question: what benefit will this product allow the user to provide to his or her tribe?
Will your laundry detergent empower users to show others how well-pressed and put-together they are, or will it help parents show their kids love and affection with a warm sensory embrace every time they get dressed? THAT’s what matters to the user, so THAT’s the social role of your brand.
3. How does the user benefit from your brand’s social capital?
Spoiler: the answer is almost always in how it makes others perceive him or her.
Even for more altruistic brands, the actual benefit the user derives from using the brand is likely different from the altruistic or otherwise benevolent attributes of the product. When a person buys a pair of Warby Parker glasses, someone in need gets a pair gratis. However, the actual purchaser of the glasses doesn’t benefit from THAT. Instead, she benefits from the appeal that others in her social tribe perceive about her: that she is the kind of person who buys sunglasses with a cause.
Likewise, a person who buys a high performance car that gets abysmal gas mileage does not benefit from the low MPG’s of his new ride. Rather, he benefits from the capital afforded by his identifying as a gear-head dedicated to performance – appealing among the fellow tribe of gear-heads on whom he’s more than happy to spend a little social capital.
Your brand has a crucially relevant social role to play for every potential user. The challenge lies not in realizing this, but rather determining what that role will be.