By Dickson Bueno
For today’s consumer, making a decision within a sea of options is often challenging. As most brands work to expand their market share, consumers are faced with infinite choices at nearly every price-point. From traditional commodities, like coffee and cereal, to electronics, and even specialized services, today’s market is flooded with options. Considering all of this competition in the age of digital marketing, how can brands build and sustain loyalty?
When price-point, accessibility, and quality are almost interchangeable, brands have focused on customer affinity – building personal, often emotional connections, between brands and their consumers.
The idea of brand building through personal connections isn’t new. What is new, and seemingly constantly changing, are the priorities of consumers and the values and attributes they connect with in a brand; Does the brand promote and have strong representation of women leaders? Is the brand environmentally responsible and does it represent those values in its persona and actions? Does the brand feature and “live” inclusivity of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.? In a market where price, quality, and access are equal, these values become prized differentiators.
We’ve presented some ideas around Brand Activism and its relevance to both businesses and consumers, but we can look further at how brands communicate those values through storytelling and the long term connection this builds with those consumers, beyond activism.
(Optics) A glass or other transparent object in prism form, especially one that is triangular with refracting surfaces at an acute angle with each other and that separates white light into a spectrum of colors.
So what does that have to do with a prism? Well it comes down to storytelling, both visual and the written word, and this is where visual design and copywriting do the heavy lifting.
In the very early 1980’s one company took a bold leap of faith, they decided to look through this “prism” and in the process discovered a rainbow of opportunity. They developed designs and visual communications marketed exclusively at one small, yet colorful segment of the population – that company was Absolut Vodka and their target market was the gay community. It became the first global brand to consistently market to this segment across all media, and leveraged bold iconic use of visual design elements linked to the LGBT+ community, like the rainbow flag, to connect with this market and communicate its brand values:
“The reason for Absolut to engage in LGBT marketing is not for political reasons, we don’t take political stands but we believe in all peoples’ rights to be who they are and express what they want. It is a question of freedom. We believe in diversity and individuality. We do not believe in labels and prejudice.” - Kristina Hagbard, Global PR Manager Absolut Vodka
These brand values were mainly exemplified in their label designs, showcased in collaborations with LGBT+ artists and designers like Andy Warhol, Keith Herring, Jean Paul Gauthier, and Tom Ford to name just a few. Now, for over 30 years, Absolut is recognized by the LGBT+ community worldwide as a brand they trust and thus support. One look through that prism led Absolut Vodka to the optimal example of customer affinity, followed quickly by Subaru which has taken customer affinity to new heights in their LGBT+ advertising communications to date.
Can we say that design and advertising contributed greatly to greater visibility and social acceptance of the LGBT+ community in the last 30 years? Maybe. But we can almost certainly conclude that connecting with consumers on an emotional level has been essential to the longevity of some brands, and perhaps ushered a subconscious need for the LGBT+ community to support brands that support us … Customer Affinity!
I believe it also created a space in the design and advertising world for LGBT+ creative professionals to “come out” and have their personal perspectives and experiences directly influence the visual communications of brands that celebrate diversity.
More importantly, it forced brands to recognize the value in the voice of LGBT+ designers, writers and artists, and how our unique experiences and points of view lend to authentic storytelling, which intuitively translates to a greater emotional connection with consumers.
As this year’s LGBT+ PRIDE month draws to a close, I look inward as a professional in the design, marketing, and advertising space, and believe it's been a great time to work in this industry. While it’s not always been rainbows, unicorns, and T-Dances, I’ve been thrilled to see how brands and businesses at large have embraced inclusivity across all areas and have worked to build affinity on authentic values. It has been a delight to collaborate with other LGBT+ creative professionals, and to be able to lend my voice and experiences to the stories brands want to tell, and not just LGBT+ ones.
It is also particularly gratifying to live in an age and work at a company where I, as a gay man, make it possible for brands to separate a singular beam of light into a spectrum of color.