This is the third blog post in the series of nine, which follows on from the previous blog post, taking inspiration from the Cabinet Office commissioned report entitled MINDSPACE. Changing or shaping behaviour and inspiring or engaging people is often a perquisite of many of the work we do for clients at H+K. The MINDSPACE report sets out nine of the most robust (non-coercive) influences on our behaviour, which is captured in the simple mnemonic MINDSPACE:
+ + + #3 Norms + + +
Norms – the power of social norms are such that if your brand sits outside of social convention it can deter consumers. Furthermore if your product is one that defies social norms, goes against it, then your potential consumer base becomes much smaller. Products and marketing have to stand out today in a competitive market place, but not go against social norms to the extent that it alienates the brand and turns away consumers.
However, social norms change over time and place. Often subtly or gradually, but it is for this reason why trends and different cultural appreciation becomes key to successful brand building. Local market PR and advertising activation is important to understand key opinion leaders and how to position a brand strongly in relation to social norms.
Indeed the subtle social norm differentials can be seen not just culturally and geographically, but also digitally. A random follow on Twitter is seen as great, but a random friend request on Facebook is seen at best somewhat eery. Furthermore, dating apps and websites invite a completely different type of social norm and etiquette to everyday encounters in a bar. And also a different type of social norm with regard to other social platforms. Two seemingly similar online concepts of video messaging – Skype and chat roulette – but yet the social norms of these two digital spaces are stark. Parental caution is advised for the latter!
Brands also have the power to create social norms. In order to maximise the power of brands, these norms and reputations then need to be maintained. Looking at norms and product innovation – as is evident with countless examples – is a gradually, slowly changing process. A pod of vanilla in Coca Cola. A whiff of aniseed in Pimms. A sprig of rosemary to Pringles. Adding a hint of coffee flavour to a Kit Kat, or a fifth finger, is something innovative, but not so far removed from the norm that consumers can’t still relate to the original product. Change the product from fingers of chocolate to ‘toes’ of dried fruit and change the name to ‘Dit Dog’ and consumers don’t get it. Therefore, brands create norms in their marketing strategy – have a break, have a kit kat. Change the Kit Kat too much, and the hard work is undone. The power of the brands social influence can be diluted. Why is the Apple brand family evolving at what seems like a slower rate than mankind! Because actually consumers don’t like sudden change, and too much change can be bad thing for marketing.
It is to that end where brand management and brand reputation becomes crucial. To not allow hard work to be undone. To reinforce brand values and defend them when threaten. But also to create social norms and influence culture through branding and marketing. In brand messaging and communications, understanding and responding to the subtle social norm differentials that exist geographically, culturally and digitally are key to effective communication strategy and execution.
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