Photo: Rob Candelino
Brands know they’ve succeeded once consumers begin to sell the product themselves — in the way that Apple products have become status symbols.But it’s not easy to turn consumers into advocates. Usually, it involves taking some bold risks to create an aura of authenticity surrounding the brand.
To provide some advice for entrepreneurs looking to create an inspiring product, we spoke with Rob Candelino, vice president of brand building for Unilever Skincare. He played a major role in Dove’s popular “Real Beauty” campaign, which completely changed the company’s image.
Below is a slightly-edited transcript of our conversation:
Most brands would like to inspire. What is your definition of an inspiring brand?
A product is a transactional thing; it’s an item that serves a purpose in your life. A brand can be that same item but with an emotional engagement. And I think often times, what makes brands exceptional, what makes brands inspiring is that that emotional engagement is so deep, is so profound, and so relevant to that individual who is interacting with that brand, it transcends the functional purpose it serves.
How do you connect emotionally with your consumers?
I don’t think you can do what we’ve done in beauty related self-esteem issues unless you have a tremendous relationship on which to build. So we took what was a really good strong relationship and made it even stronger because we were advocating to the very issues that mothers and girls are wrestling with in living rooms around the country and around the world.
For startups on a budget, is it worth investing in expensive marketing talent?
The point is you have to be contextually relevant. Where you send your money, make sure you get a commensurate impact for the investment you’re making. If you’re spending $50,000 on a local program that is reaching however many dozens of women and girls, that needs to be as powerful per interaction as that ad you do in Times Square or at the Super Bowl.
How do you integrate a social cause into your brand?
I’ll come back to my point about contextual relevance. I see a lot of brands in all industries recognising the importance of having a very overt social relevance in addition to their commercial presence. Where we think brands sometimes get it wrong is when that social objective does not sync up to who they are as a business. That’s why when we do things for Dove, if we partner for an event it has to be consistent and authentic to the values that we ascribe to as a brand and our commitment to building positive self esteem for women and girls. If its not, we want no part of it.
How do you know if your campaign has resonated?
When you put six women in their underwear on a billboard in Times Square and challenge conventional norms of beauty imagery, you know instantaneously. That work originally was so groundbreaking and so profoundly inspiring to women, that we knew right away. Women would call us. Women would come up to us. It was immediate.
What are the potential pitfalls of promoting an inspiring brand? What can go wrong?
There’s a tremendous amount that could go wrong. I think if you think of the risk my predecessors took: “We’re going to spend a few million bucks to do a Super Bowl ad and we’re not going to talk about product. We’re going to talk about a philosophy and a philosophy that takes on the very industry that we are a part of.” Think of how risky that was, how groundbreaking that was. But that context which everyone understood, is exactly what lent more credibility and power to the message itself. We were conscious of that and it was a deliberate choice.
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