Brand as Religion
The dialogue between customers and brands is being thrust ever deeper into the realm of branded content and digital engagement. Although these terms can be cliché and therefore difficult to define, we know what they look like when we see them. Such tools are utilized by brands either online or offline to extend the culture, philosophy and personality of brand further into the minds of the consumer.
If brand were a religion, than these pieces would be the great works used to convert and inspire. These would be the cathedrals, artwork and idols created in pursuit of a higher purpose. They are meant to open the door and show you their "way of life". In the same way, modern brands hope to convince you of their viewpoint and "sincere" belief of their purpose. However the question remains whether the faithful will come and support the new cult of brand, self-identifying with certain lifestyles.
Examples of Digital Brand Marketing
In this space there have been several front runners ready to the test the potential of culture marketing. This strategy embraces a markedly less product-driven tact and instead focuses on explaining the culture behind the brand. Companies hope this emphasis will give them stronger brand awareness and give customers a platform to identify with and value system to self-emulate. For more explanation, let's just cut to the examples --
RedBull & GOPro (a pair made in brand heaven)
You may be familiar with Felix Baumgartner's 23 mile jump from the outer atmosphere in 2012. The Stratos Project is an excellent example of brand engagement. In Short, it has all the elements that draw in the customer, make him understand the culture behind the two companies and facilitate his connection with that purpose - pushing and overcoming the extreme.
Coca-Cola (the innovative brand legend)
Coca-Cola always remains an innovator and is able to creatively push the boundaries of brand activation. These two examples above are amazing examples of digital brand engagement pieces. They not only actually pull in real customers, they make you smile, which lies at the core of their brand religion - happiness. All of these pieces allow the viewers to identify and relate to the fun-loving nature of a coke.
Branders are betting that not only will this influence your future purchase behavior but more importantly will influence what products you use to define your own identity. I personally cannot stop watching the Coca-Cola 007 Challenge (the video on the right), it makes me smile every time.
Chipotle (the trailblazing newcomer)
As the wildly-successful newcomer Chipotle has been bucking trends since their inception. Consider - they have virtually no budget for traditional marketing. How many other consumer-facing companies can you name with such success that focus purely on online brand marketing (and also develop their own TV series)?
Take this youtube video as an example, where the product itself is not mentioned or seen once. Chipotle is selling its brand culture and religion from its CULTIVATE campaign - locally sourced wholesome ingredients. This has lead the company to develop the Cultivate food festival and non-profit organization.
As the only company embracing purely altruistic methods on this list, it is important to note Chipotle's brand culture. It stands above the rest in a market atmosphere where company models à la Toms Shoes are becoming popular. Such models put brand religion ahead of product, allowing customers to purchase a statement or belief.
Betabrand Apparel (the scrappy startup)
For those who don't know Betabrand, let me introduce you. They are a new company that takes crowd-funding to apparel design. Recently they've released a spring line that features their "PhD models". Yup, that's right, every model either is studying for or already holds a PhD. This shows us that brand engagement and marketing does not have to come from videos alone. There are many ways to express the culture of a brand. Betabrand's clever twist clearly demonstrates their viewpoint and communicates the brand religion of self-authenticity and non-comformity. Rock on Betabrand!
Branding engagement and activation is hard to define, but we know it when we see it.