Brand Survival Depends on Improving Customers' Lives

It is exciting to see widening recognition that brand survival depends on improving the lives of customers, not merely “pushing product” as they are accustomed to doing. In the latest example, Business Should Focus on Sociality, Not Social “Media”, Umair Haque offered a case for the end of social media and the disruption of many Industrial Economy structures, namely the social contract.

As regular readers well know, I agree with Haque’s key thesis, that brands need to jettison their legacy focus on products/services in favor of dedicating themselves to helping users achieve outcomes while using their products. I have often written that humans and their organizations will have to adopt a more collaborative and responsible attitude and approach in general. However, I don’t agree with him that there’s only one way to do “sociality” as he implies by his assertion that brands have an “existential responsibility” to “the art of living.” Here I’ll explain the differences, which will help brand stewards understand the nuances of brands’ disruption.

How Brand Survival Depends on Improving the Lives of Customers

As detailed in The Social Channel Executive Summary, I predict that we have reached the end of differentiating on product features—in favor of focusing on brand and product social value. However, client work in social business strategy has proven that there are many kinds of social value, and this is very important to understand. Adding value and being relevant will carry the day, not only “responsibility” and “improving the social good.”

As Haque passionately explains, some user outcomes are akin to social responsibility and “the art of living” (i.e. less packaging); however, there are many other user outcomes that, while they may seem less noble, help users create value by helping them get things done more expeditiously.

Most brands today “differentiate” by product (service) features, which is untenable in most categories. Online conversations enable people to consume “novelty” overnight, and software-powered plants and supply chain solutions enable competitors to copy “innovation” close-to-instantly.

The Social Channel’s main thesis is differentiation moves away from product (service) and toward social value, which is now possible because communication is free. However, in certain categories, the market will bifurcate: there will be a place for commodity leaders for the foreseeable future. This will take many forms. Anyone who doesn’t manage a textile brand would argue that bathroom tissue is a commodity. However, a some boxes with your favorite team’s arch rival’s name on them? Or multiplication tables for homes with elementary school children?

Or maybe I want generic charcoal at the lowest possible price, but one competitor’s product gets help from customers, including some of my undergrad classmates, at a similar price. No contest.

On “The Economy”

As readers know, I agree with Haque’s assertion that “the economy” will never “go back to normal”. The Industrial Economy has waned in favor of the Knowledge Economy, where goods themselves commoditize and social differentiation reigns. Today’s “economy” is only “bad” if you thirst for yesteryear; we will create far more wealth and opportunity, once people learn the new means of production.

Anyone can start today. The Social Channel explains how.

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