What if you knew that your customers were unhappy with you or blaming you for a particular problem, even though they continue buying from you?
What if you could feel the weight of a growing concern amongst your customers, yet the issue is something no one knows how to easily solve?
With such awareness, would you ignore it, deny it, or open a dialogue about it?
Coca-Cola is one company that has recently decided to talk about a controversial topic of which they are well aware: obesity in America.
Earlier this year, Coca-Cola launched an ad campaign aimed at addressing the company’s role in obesity in America. The company even claims to have worked with school systems to offer bottled water and juices to children. They’re also making an effort to create low-calorie drink options, and offer smaller-sized sodas to help control portion size.
Is it hypocritical or misleading for the world’s largest beverage company to talk about a problem for which they are viewed as a prime source? On this controversial topic, there are clearly two groups: admirers and critics.
As a marketer, I personally admire them.
The Value of Awareness
In spite of their massive size, Coca-Cola has chosen to pull their head out of the sand, become fully aware of the world on which they helped create, and begin a dialogue with consumers on how to address the growing issue of obesity. Who better to help change consumer behavior then one of the best marketers in the world?
To start this process, the company first had to embrace the value of awareness. As a differentiating value, Awareness means having knowledge of; ability to perceive or feel.
It could be argued that Coca-Cola always knew what it was doing. However, the new awareness was the realization that if they don’t help address this major issue, consumers might ask others to do it for them (e.g. government agencies with regulations or insurance companies with higher premiums). Either way, Coca-Cola could experience negative results in sales if they continued to ignore the facts and perceptions.
So why now? What’s changed?
In the past, marketers primarily focused their research efforts on gathering data and information that helped them make more, sell more, or profit more. When anything negative or potentially harmful was uncovered, marketers turned to their PR experts to “handle it”.
But in an increasingly socially connected world, smart marketers are embracing awareness as a differentiating value. The knowledge of how customers really feel about major issues and concerns can open a door to connect and dialogue like nothing marketers have every experienced before.
Note: to do this, you don’t have to be a big multinational conglomerate like Coca-Cola.
3 Local Examples
- Imagine a mid-sized law firm in your community that openly acknowledges the negativity that many people feel about lawyers (e.g. snakes, dishonest, highly competitive). Maybe they provide a forum to dialogue on how to change this negative perception, or begin altering the behaviors that lead to this perception.
- Imagine a small community bank that addresses the problem of lack of trust and confidence in all banks (since the financial collapse of 2008), and the fact that community banks are viewed as unstable because of their size. In this case, it’s important customer conversations do not come across as advertising or trying to show the benefits of being small. The real value here is in opening a dialogue on how to the banking system needs to change in order to address the needs of local businesses and consumers.
- Imagine a small pharmaceutical company that chooses to engage in the touchy subject of costly prescription medication vs. lower-cost natural remedies. By doing this, are they risking that the FDA may frown upon their efforts, harming their chances of getting future drugs approved? Will an open dialogue with consumers cause the insurance companies to remove their drugs from the approved list, or from physicians prescribing them? In a world where consumers are becoming more self-educated patients and partnering with their doctor (instead of remaining passive), it make sense to have an open dialogue with consumers about what they are truly thinking and feeling.
But regardless if the conversation is local, national, or international, the process starts with the value of awareness.
What do you think of Coca-Cola’s approach?
How can the value of awareness help you create competitive advantage?
Today’s value was selected from the “Knowledge-Skillfulness” category, based on the e-book Developing Your Differentiating Values.