I was at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference last week – if you haven’t been, I highly recommend it – where I attended a terrific breakout session featuring:
- Seth Goldman, President and “TeaEO” of Honest Tea
- Jason Graham-Nye, Co-founder, Chairman and CEO of gDiapers
- Adam, Lowry, Co-founder and Chief Greenskeeper, Method Products
The “Green Insurgents” session sought to examine how smaller green brands are challenging the big boys. When the subject of marketing came up, they all talked about “having” to use social media because “our advertising budget is a rounding error next to our competitors’ budgets,” to quote Seth Goldman. But as they talked about how they were using social media, the level of engagement they were earning from their consumers and the very real progress they were making in building fans of their brand via social, it struck me that an attitude adjustment might be in order. They don’t “have” to use social media. They “get” to.
Social media, but its very nature, appeals to that part of us that wants to be the cool kid who was in on the news first – the hipster who’s able to brag at a dinner party that “I was listening to underground recordings of that band waaaaay before anybody else ever knew about them.” Social media is a perfect fit, then, for challenger brands – particularly those with a meaningful hook, such as a higher green calling. It gives consumers a way to discover and be in the know on something new and cool. A big brand can run an interesting social media promotion and consumers may participate because it’s clever or they don’t want to be left out (think Old Spice guy). But when a small brand runs a social media promotion, it allows us to feel that thrill of being the first to know about something … and that self-esteem boost we get from being the one who tells all our friends about it first. And when those small brands use social media to actually take on the big boys, we get the ultimate high of telling the high school principal what he can do with all his rules – all from the safety of our living rooms.
Take, for example, Method’s votedaisy.com. This was the company’s response to a cease and desist letter from The Clorox Company regarding usage of the daisy as a brand image. This simple, inexpensive site completely supports the mystique of Method as a challenger brand and gives Method fans a clever way to be in on the coolness. This approach is also something an established brand could almost never do; their lawyers wouldn’t let them.
So, I’m not saying that big brands shouldn’t use social media. Of course they should. But big brands can’t offer consumers the extra, rebel charge that challenger brands can. The medium is ideal for that – it’s a perfect fit with the challenger brand value proposition. So all you upstart green brands out there: Stop bemoaning your small marketing budgets and embrace the position you’ve inherited. You are the heirs to the social media throne. Use your power wisely.