If you want to be a loved brand, engage with communities in the real world and learn to speak people to people (P2P).

Talking at people is an effective methodology, after all brands have been doing it for decades. But after the birth of digital ‘push’ was out and ‘pull’ was in. It was all about dialogue not monologues, empowerment of consumers and even co-creation. “Listen before you talk, you have two ears and one mouth” was what one MD I worked with would say to our clients, sadly few took any notice.

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Content was now designed to make consumers connect with the brand. Brands wanted to be loved (everyone had a copy of Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts). The product was now integral to a consumers life beyond its functional use. A bar of soap wasn’t just a bar of soap, it was a lifestyle. It made your life complete. It wasn’t about just washing away bad sweaty smells but empowering you, giving you a new confidence to smile and take on the world (and get the woman).

Brands believed the way into community was via social media, after all they’d been sold a pipedream about what SM can do and the misbelief that all our conversations were now online (when in fact only 10% were).

What they were actually missing was real world engagement – word of mouth. What they were getting was a lot of faked up social media numbers. But that bubble has burst and we all woke up, like sleeping beauty, to face reality and a simple fact, most of life goes on off line.

As you may have read in Metro recently, a good few of us adland folk are involved in the Crouch End Festival, now UK’s biggest community arts festival.

No book, course or academic will be able to teach you as much about engaging with communities than actually running a festival does.

It’s an insight that also improves your marketing skills as it drags you screaming out of your adland ivory tower back to the street. From small businesses to big brands, from the local vicar to the mayor, it’s all about people to people, which is why I now advocate all clients drop the term B2C and replace it with P2P.

It reminds you that ‘consumers’ are actually real people, that there’s no such thing as A B C1 (a meaningless audience description) and that people are far more emotional than rational (whereas 90% of advertisers think the opposite).

The key is understanding what drives people, what matters and what doesn’t. Understanding the psychology of their behavior (from Behavioural Economics to Emotivations). Yet too often I read briefs that makes you wonder if the author has ever live din the real world.

The key is to understand what people’s values are and how to connect via those values. And to wake up to the fact that people know when they are being sold at and hate it.

To be a ‘loved brand’ you need to show you love them. It’s actually not rocket science, it’s a case of acting human. And that you respect and share their values.

But no matter how visionary a brand’s claim to ‘care about the community’ many don’t really (it’s just PR spin) and others can’t do anything because their hands are tired by rules, forms, committees, mindless middle management and bureaucracy (that enemy of all things innovative).

For example, Waitrose created the green token idea. You get a token when you shop and drop it into one box (of three) to support a local community project. It’s great marketing spin but they have so many conditions that no matter how local or community you are, no matter how big your reach or the good you do, some one high up in the ivory tower has already decided what make a good project, and if you don’t tick their boxes, sorry, money’s going to the dead cat society.

By contrast, Budgen’s empower their managers so they can say yes.

Starbucks this year was the first major brand to sponsor the Crouch End Festival. No form filing, no application process, no long wait for a yes or no. They have discovered it’s about people making decisions – empower those at the front line. A philosophy that won many battles for the British, but one that banks have abandoned for a humanless robotic bureaucratic process that doesn’t work. As one community member said, the only way to get money out of a local bank for the community is if we all rob it.”

The original master of connecting with community was Tesco, about 20 years ago, before the explosion of the internet, they created Computers for Schools. It connected with community values, created a lot of engagement, WOM and delivered a ‘Thank you” outcome.

Another brand that gets it right is Lush, they really do understand the values of their consumer.

But when brands do take the leap (and let’s be honest, the money involved is less than a day’s fee from most big agencies, and at least it’s actually delivering a positive benefit) the benefits can be massive. It taps into word of mouth, social media, local PR and generally gives a reason for people to connect with a brand. A win win all round.