Brand Marketing: A New Era Begins

Walker SmithJune 4, 20123 min

The power of kinship is the fuel that will fire the foreseeable future of commerce, culture, creed, and, indeed, the whole character and economy of life itself. Social networks, in particular, have put kinship on the radar of brand marketers.

Yet, it is utterly ironic that social networks, today’s hottest trend, are little more than a high-tech reprise of the deepest human instinct – connecting with others. But this irony is telling, too, for it points directly to what’s ahead.

The rising importance of connections brings kinship into play. When relationships rule, the relationships that matter most constitute the gold standard for brands to emulate. Those are family relationships, and that makes marketing a matter of kinship.

For brand marketers, the defining difference of kinship is that the relationships people want are connections with other people not with brands. This shift kicks the old idea of brand relationships off the stage. For brands to get close, they must facilitate people relationships, not deepen brand relationships.

Certainly, people will continue to adopt brands, just as they always have. But with kinship in ascendance as the locus of value, consumer engagement must be established and maintained in a different way. What, then, makes for kinship? There are many things, of course, but three things in particular must be central to brand marketing in an era powered by kinship.

First, kinship is a matter of bloodlines. For consumers to adopt brands, they must first claim brands as members of their family. Brands cannot lay claim to this; only consumers can do it. If they don’t, then brands are outsiders irrelevant to the intimacy implicit in relationships. This makes retention, loyalty and recommendations both less likely and costlier.

The challenge, though, is that consumers are focused more on relationships with other people than relationships with brands. So getting consumers to make this claim is harder to do directly in one-to-one exchange with consumers. Instead, it must be done indirectly, like a family member focused on the greater wellbeing of the family unit. This is why most brands have had trouble with social media. Nowadays, it’s less about blowing your own horn and more about being the background music for the great time people are having with one another. Do that well, and every time people connect, they will want you around. But keep interrupting people to promote your brand, and people will tune you out.

Second, kinship means intimacy. Family members see each other in their most private moments. They walk around in their underwear, if you will. For brands to be part of the family, they must be willing to open themselves up like this as well. More practically, this means utter transparency of intentions, operations and accountability. Consumers will not feel kinship with brands that hide what they’re doing or hold something back. Consumers may still do business with such brands, but it will cost brands more to get them and will expose brands to the risk of censure and switching when the spotlight finds these dark corners.

Finally, kinship entails altruism. Generally speaking, family ties are the ones for which people will make the biggest sacrifices, bending over backwards and even giving of themselves to the point of self-sacrifice. The greater good of the family unit is the most powerful spur to pro-social sacrifice. Brands have to give of themselves in this way, putting the broader lifestyle and personal interests of consumers ahead of their own transactional and commercial interests. Making money is fine, but consumers have come to expect more of brands than that. Consumers want kinship not just commerce, and that means a whole new dynamic of putting the relationships first.

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