Donald Trump came to the White House with the lowest approval rating ever for an incoming president. From a branding perspective, things have not been getting better. On the 144th day of his presidency, Trump hit a 60% disapproval rating, giving him the dubious distinction of being the fastest to ever reach that mark (beating
Marketers promote, entertain, celebrate, and explain. In other words, they talk. But Dave Kerpen, cofounder and chairman of Likeable Media and founder and CEO of its sibling company, Likeable Local, believes that a different skill is needed in a media landscape increasingly driven by social media – listening. And by listening, Kerpen means more than just using social media channels to respond to consumer questions and complaints. He sees listening via social media as a means to tell stories and engender authentic conversations with and among consumers and to promote conversations that strengthen and reward brand loyalty.
In a lot of ways, it’s the next step in the evolution of branding. Branding started with the idea that companies and products had actual identities and that consumers would affiliate with brands that enhanced or fit well with their own identities. And – without invoking John Roberts and suggesting corporations are people – the next step seems to be making brands part of the consumer’s social circle, or at the very least, using the social circle to validate the brand.
Kerpen first made a splash in all media – not just social – when he and his then soon-to-be wife raised over $100,000 selling sponsorship rights to their wedding, which was hosted at the Brooklyn Cyclones ballpark. They then leveraged their notoriety to launch Likeable Media, a social media and word-of-mouth marketing company that is one of the fastest-growing privately held businesses in the United States. Kerpen also authored two New York Times Best Sellers: Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business, and was also named the #1 LinkedIn Influencer of All Time last summer when his article, “11 Simple Concepts for Becoming a Better Leader” garnered 1.8 million views and 21,000 likes. The first concept on his list – listening.
The Way I See It
- As much as things still keep changing – and will likely continue to keep changing – I see a growing maturation in the use of social media. Whether marketers are arriving at it through Dave Kerpen’s advice or their own observation, more and more brands are realizing the central nature of listening and storytelling to the way social media works.
- I see consumers heavily relying on participation as a means of measuring trust. They want brands they can engage with and relate to. And they want that engagement validated by their own social networks.
The Way the Industry Sees It
I sat down with Dave Kerpen, cofounder and chairman of Likeable Media and founder and CEO of Likeable Local, to discuss listening, social media, and his most recent book, Likeable Leadership.
Two of the strongest themes in your writing and speaking are listening and storytelling. How are those two skills related?
I always say, “Listen first and never stop listening.” Listening is the single most important communication skill, and sometimes it’s harder than you think. Often when we think we’re listening, we’re just waiting to talk. Try shutting up and really listening to everyone: your customers, your fans, your employees, your husband or wife, your children, etc. You might be surprised at the valuable insight and stories you’ll hear when you do. The next step, of course, is to share those stories. No one remembers facts or statistics, but everyone remembers a great story. Practicing listening and storytelling will make you a better communicator and, ultimately, more likeable, and more successful.
What did you learn as you were “listening” to the stories you collected for the new book? Did anything surprise you?
I am constantly surprised by how much I learn when I just shut up and listen. People’s lives and stories are so fascinating to me, and there are always lessons to be learned. Last year, I wrote an article about my interaction with an older man on a flight to Boston. I chatted with him, asked him a few of questions, and listened … a lot. I had met Frank Lautenberg, the late United States Senator, who taught me, in just forty-five minutes, one of the most important lessons of my life: Career Highlights Won’t be on Your Tombstone. With a few questions and a lot of listening, you can literally change your life.
During the holiday season, helping others is on many people’s minds. We see more charitable branding and increased advertising to encourage people to give – to capture the true spirit of the holidays. Right after the shopping whirlwind of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we celebrated “Giving Tuesday” with the hashtag #GivingTuesday trending on Twitter. Many large charities are encouraging donations on social media, among other platforms. Text a number and you can donate $10 to American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Salvation Army volunteers are ringing their bells on street corners and outside of suburban shopping malls. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital launched a Thanks and Giving campaign across a variety of platforms – television, online and print– partnering with a number of nationwide retailers to allow shoppers to make a donation to St. Jude during in-store or online checkout.
For most large companies, a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy is a key component of each annual strategic plan. Charitable giving is a large component of that plan, and the holiday season is prime time. Certainly business giving back is the right thing to do as a matter of societal obligation. The question to consider is whether it actually helps build brand loyalty and makes business sense from a marketing, advertising and sales basis.
The Way I See It
- I see more companies and influential brands not only making CSR strategies a significant part of their annual missions, but also striving to make CSR a part of their corporate identity and brand. CSR has become a part of branding, marketing, and advertising efforts year-round.
- I see new start up’s, especially in technology, social media and new products/services, have as their core positioning – a CSR backbone, and this as an element that both motivates the participants and attracts like-minded customers.
- I see consumer brands continue to strategically partner with charitable organizations to integrate the process of raising funds for the charities with purchasing consumer goods and services. I see marketers, advertisers and charities recognizing a real win-win.
- I see skeptics who say “CSR is dead” and argue against strategies involving charitable giving – for instance, a business school professor recently published “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility” in The Wall Street Journal. In a tough economic environment where every expense must be challenged, I see the increased use of hard data to support the economic proposition that CSR is good for the long term, and if done right, even better for the short term.
- I see increased regulatory scrutiny of charitable giving and tie-in’s. With the rise of social media and web giving, there is a greater opportunity for fraud. Many states strictly regulate such programs. In October, the New York Attorney General’s Office issued “Best Practices for Transparent Cause Marketing,” after conducting a study of various CSR programs to benefit breast cancer.
The Way the Industry Sees It
I sat down with Dorothy Jones, Vice President of Marketing at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to discuss Corporate Social Responsibility and what it means for branding, consumer engagement, and the importance of being strategic.
In what ways have Corporate Social Responsibility efforts evolved in recent years? Did the financial crisis and the current state of the economy have an impact on charitable giving efforts?
We did not see a change in commitment from our corporate partners overall, although we did see the impact of the recession and unemployment in certain industries and in fundraising from individuals, which we expect will improve as the economy improves. This tells us that business people understand the value of their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility programs especially in difficult economic times. This kind of commitment allows us to meet the extra demands for services that organizations like ours provide to people in need.
How important are the holidays to charities in terms of fundraising? Is there a seasonality to charitable efforts?
The holidays are always a special time in general. Organizations also experience their own seasons – for example, we do a significant amount of fundraising in the fall during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in the spring, around Mother’s Day, when people are remembering, celebrating, or honoring the women in their lives who have faced breast cancer.