Goodbye brand fan. Hello brand collaborator.

WRITTEN BY DAN SALVA

For years, brands have wanted us to become their fans. Beyond just buying their products and services, they have wanted us to advocate for them. In fact, the measure of this is the Net Promoter Score. It gauges the likelihood of you or I to recommend a certain brand.

Companies work to gain high Net Promoter Scores. They may take the tack of providing outstanding value. Others may try to capture a certain zeitgeist that people are drawn to (hoping we will wear their logos.) They want us to become that fan.

The thing is, this language feels out of step with today’s sensibility.

The word ‘fan’ suggest someone who is passive. It’s a person who sits on the sideline. Not really engaging, but rather, cheering on whoever it is they align with. Yet, that’s how the majority of brands treat us.

The trouble with this is that it feels like a one-way street. If we advocate for them, what do we get in return? Maybe recommending their brand reflects well upon us. Maybe, by displaying their logo, we get to be part of the image that they have created with their brand. But the fact is, none of us wants to sit on the sidelines. We want to be participants.

When we step back and examine it, it feels like the brand is requesting a lot from this relationship. I’m not saying that it is exploitative. I’m just saying it feels out of balance.

What if we could be more than promoters?

What if we felt like we had a bigger role in this relationship? What if there was something beyond just being a promoter? There would have to be a way to engage with the brand that goes beyond just connecting. Imagine it feeling more like a partnership that we have with that brand.

Imagine having the opportunity to become a collaborator with that brand.

That is a tall order. It’s going to take more than offering the features and benefits of whatever product or service you create. It’s even going to take more than creating a desirable image.

This requires that the brand commit to something beyond itself. Something that can have a real and meaningful impact for people. I call it a Big Audacious Meaning — the profound difference your brand can make in an individual life, a community, or even the world. A brand that commits to this creates a unique opportunity for all of its potential believers to join in as collaborators. To be part of what feels a lot like a movement.

In this scenario, it’s no longer just about why we should buy from a brand. Our purchasing decision becomes a lever to help us do more than acquire goods and services. It becomes a means to accomplish a larger purpose.

This creates a very different relationship between us and the brand. As collaborators on this larger purpose, we begin to feel more like a peer. We begin to feel like we have skin in the game in creating this change in the world.

Think about what that leads to.

If we feel that we have skin in the game, it’s going to increase loyalty. We want to see our decisions and actions build upon each other as we work with the brand to pursue that Big Audacious Meaning. As collaborators, the relationship is no longer dominated by a transaction. Rather, it is based on something we believe in and actively champion.

Now when we wear a company logo it’s not just because we align with an idea that the company promotes. We wear it because we feel like we are actively involved in contributing to a positive change in the world.

Dan Salva is a co-founder of Will & Grail, with more than three decades of experience in brand marketing and developing and implementing go-to-market strategies. He can be reached at dsalva@willgrail.com.