Brand Belonging: How Brands Are Taking Advantage of the Next Big Social Trend

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Do you remember the last time you walked into your local bank branch and got a friendly welcome from a banker you knew personally? Neither do I.

Perhaps it’s why Capital One Banks opened a string of Capital One Cafes in some of the nation’s largest cities. They have free Wi-Fi, local coffee and food and one-on-one money coaching. You don’t have to be a Capital One customer to hang out there and the coaching is free.

“Capital One Cafes have been very successful, and with that success, Capital One has added many more and launched a national advertising campaign around them,” said J. Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer of Brand & Marketing at Kantar Consulting. There are now more than 30 cafes nationwide.

The program has been so successful because it takes advantage of the biggest social trend in America today. In our hyper-connected digital era, consumers feel they are actually more disconnected than ever before. Technology and social media has both supplemented and replaced real human connections, resulting in a reported epidemic of social isolation.

Nearly half of Americans say they sometimes or always feel alone or left out, and just over half feel they have meaningful in-person interactions on a daily basis, according to a study by global health service company Cigna.

The antidote? More face-to-face interaction, more meaningful connections, more real community. This is something brands can provide. Call it “brand belonging.” A 2017 IMB iX study defined it as a set of experiences that address the cultural need and market opportunity for real-world, person-to-person connection.

“People are truly interested in social connectedness,” said Smith, whose whitepaper “The Future of Consumption: Social Innovation” goes deep on the topic. “Brands that do not take advantage of this trend will find themselves left behind in one of the biggest trends currently in the marketplace.”

Brands that will win in this environment will seek to create connections for their customers rather than merely advertise their products’ benefits. For example, a detergent brand would be well served helping families spend more time together, rather than just telling them how to better wash their clothes, according to Smith.

For brands that aren’t ready to open a café, there are platforms and programs that they can get involved with that already emphasize community.

Nextdoor, the social network for neighborhoods, is a go-to partner for brands like Home Depot, Target and Charles Schwab for connection-oriented brand-building. Nextdoor is specifically designed to foster real-life interactions with neighbors – and the company already understands how to drive these connections.

“Community vitality is measured by several things: how much people trust each other in the neighborhood; how much trust they have with their local institutions and public officials; and how much reciprocity is happening in the neighborhood,” said Tatyana Mamut, Head of Product at Nextdoor.

Unlike other social networks, where connections can come from anywhere – school, work, a shared interest – and users could be anyone, your Nextdoor network is your neighbors, fostering a sense of real community via proximity. You’re less likely to start a toxic political argument with folks you live near, whose kids might be friends with your kids. And in case things get too heated, Nextdoor has just launched a new feature called Kindness Reminder that prompts members who post comments that are potentially offensive to review the community guidelines and edit or delete the reply.

At Trusted Media Brands, where we publish such iconic brands as Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home and The Family Handyman, we’re helping brands build community, too. One example is Reader’s Digest’s “Nicest Places in America” program. It starts with a nationwide call for nominations of places where people are kind and do incredible things to improve each other’s lives. We ask Americans to share their stories – and they do, nearly 1,100 this year alone. Then we share the best ones with our readers and they are voted on by readers and judges. The finale is the unveiling of the Nicest Place in America on the cover of the November issue and in a 30-page spread.

The contest and the stories bring communities together. Places named as finalists have generated excitement about the program with July 4th parade floats, events at local cafes and by organizing voting campaigns. Even communities that don’t come out on top report a positive, uplifting experience by being associated with Nicest Places. Over two years, Nicest Places has gotten nearly 400 million media impressions and has resulted in op-eds in USA Today and multiple segments on ABC’s Good Morning America.

This year, Life Extension, a health solutions expert, joined the program as both a sponsor and as a community builder by creating a companion program called “Community Health Heroes,” which celebrates communities that are committed to kindness, trust and health. Community Health Heroes features true stories of people who are committed to supporting and inspiring communities to live a happier, healthier life.

“This relationship provided Life Extension the opportunity to support and highlight the efforts of those around the country who help others live healthier lives,” said Rey Searles, Vice President of Marketing at Life Extension.

In our hyper-connected digital world, where people feel they are more isolated than ever before, brands have much to gain from helping consumers create a sense of belonging with each other.

Trusted Media Brands will be hosting a panel with Kantar’s Smith and Nextdoor’s Mamut and Reddit’s Jack Koch on how to build brand belonging at Advertising Week in New York on Tuesday, September 24 at 10:15 am at the Impact Maker’s Stage. You can view more about the panel discussion here.

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