In recent research, MWWPR identified a significant segment of the population that may force companies to rethink how they build brands and their relationships with consumers. This new segment, coined “CorpSumer,” comprises one in three Americans. They are unique in that they have a demonstrated track record of basing their behaviors on more than just product features, attributes and price. They tend to care more about who the brand is and the values that it represents, being willing to stick with a company whose products or services they are not completely satisfied with because they believe in the company’s values — or advocate against the brand when they don’t.
To understand more about the CorpSumer, I turned to Carreen Winters, Chairman of Reputation and Chief Strategy Officer, and Michelle Gordon, SVP, Research and Insights at MWWPR. Below are their thoughts.
Kimberly Whitler: There is one segment of the population that tends to care more about what companies say and do—beyond just what they sell — which you call the “CorpSumer”. Why does a company or brand’s values matter to consumers?
Carreen Winters: This segment of consumers want to put their money behind things that they believe in and they want to support companies that conduct themselves in ways in which this consumer respects. Interestingly, in our research, consumers are even willing to stay loyal to a company that it believes is trying to “do the right thing” even if the product has disappointed them. This demonstrates the importance of a brand or company’s values.
Whitler: Haven’t consumers always cared about “who” the brand is? What has changed?
Winters: A few things have changed. In the past, we defined as “good” in the absence of the company doing anything wrong. Today, CorpSumers actually investigate and seek out information, in a desire to see if the company is worth doing business with. And the information they seek isn’t just about the product, but their behavior. Consider Starbucks. They provide education and healthcare benefits to all of their employees and healthcare benefits in a way that is truly unique and defines them as a good employer. Many CorpSumers are loyal to Starbucks in large part because of the “goodness” of the company and are willing to forgive their missteps — like their “Race Together” flop. They are also willing to pay a premium for a brand’s products that support causes they believe in — which was validated by our research.
Michelle Gordon: Another thing that has changed is the nature of social media. CorpSumers have a bigger megaphone and can turn activism into impact. CorpSumers pride themselves on influencing their friends and family, and are avid users of social media, and use their social channels to broadcast their support, or disapproval, of companies and urge their peers to act accordingly.
Whitler: What advice would you give marketers who want to tap into the potential of the CorpSumer?
1. Use non-traditional ways and non-traditional places: Because the CorpSumer cares as much about who you are as a company as what you sell, you will need to tell your company story before you tell your product story. And you need to tell the story in places outside of the traditional environment. Go beyond the standard venues — shareholder meetings, business interviews, etc. — to share your story. For example, there are great stories about companies in places other than the mainstream news. Tell your company story in your social channels and in consumer publications
2. Humanize and personalize it. Consumers trust people more than companies. Those companies that attach a person and a face are more trusted so it’s more effective to have an advocate (Schultz for Starbucks).
3. But not necessarily celebrity spokespeople: Many companies turn to celebrities and that doesn’t always work. Celebrities will be effective as influencers with CorpSumers when that celebrity has an authentic connection to the company or the brand. When it comes to CorpSumers CEOs, employees, and authentic company ambassadors are often the better messengers. But only use your CEO if he or she is authentic, a good storyteller and a positive embodiment of the values you hope to evangelize.
4. Don’t focus on just the what – also attend the why and how. Companies talk a lot about what they are doing, but sometimes those stories lack the texture and context of why and how. CorpSumer really want to “get under the hood.” Two industries come to mind — all pharmaceutical and healthcare companies state their commitment to being “patient centric” and all ariliens talk about being “customer focused.” Yet our everyday experiences with these companies can seem anything but. Creating a sense of purpose for your employees, and having that purpose resonate with customers is key to winning the CorpSumer. Take JetBlue Airways as an example. When they were founded, that had a stated mission of bringing humanity back to air travel. And once they had done that, they evolved and took it a step futher with Inspire Humanity, which serves as a call to action for their employees, but also a brand promise to their customers.
5. Make sure you create information in a way that is sharable. One of the greatest advantages of the CorpSumer for brands is their tendency towards activism and advocacy. This means, though, that it is critical that the brand story is told in a way that can be shared. Video content is one example of an engaging, sharable way for companies to tell a great story, and make it easily sharable by their CorpSumer fans and advocates.