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The rush to relevance in the face of mob conscience

Brands that wish to be trusted now and in the future must make the move from value positioning to relevance positioning in the context of a rising social consciousness in which every single person believes that as individuals, they can make a difference.

Gone are the days when people shrugged their shoulders and said: "There's nothing 'little old me' can do about it." Today people across the generations understand that their personal decisions, behaviours and perceptions can fundamentally influence the direction of our world.

The growing army of so-called 'social justice warriors' – people who appoint themselves guardians (usually on social media) of what is acceptable and what is not – is evidence of how individualism moving in concert not only influences our thinking but controls behaviour. People fear the backlash and modify what they say and do as a result. It won't be long before brands are impacted by this trend.

I've dubbed it 'individualism moving in concert' because there is no organised group here. No association, no lobby faction, no political party, but a growing collective of individuals who have never met each other but who together are the overt expression of society's conscience – or what will soon be if they have their increasingly likely way. Perhaps a better word is 'mob conscience?'

Ironically, while it's personalities that are currently most impacted by 'mob conscience', individual people can afford to tune out, disappear, switch off from Twitter, Facebook, etc. Brands are possibly least impacted at the moment, but will also be the least able to switch off.

What does it mean to move from value positioning to relevance positioning? Value positioning is easy to understand – price, utility, service, etc. Relevance positioning is more difficult because it means aligning your brand with society's conscience in a way that not only placates that conscience but affirms it.

Paying particular attention to product utility, design, and messaging, is a good start.

1. Our messaging must align with what is good for the consumer, not our brand. Like journalists and the media, brands must begin to think and publish and in the public interest. Brands not acting in the public interest will be exposed.

2. Utility remains important. The product or service must still be able to do the job it promises but within the constraints of the market's ever-changing social and moral conscience.

3. We must put 'consequences' ahead of 'results' in product design.

Take, for example, a mother (or father) with a child at home. It is important to her (read relevant) that she keeps her child healthy, and having a clean home is part of that.

Anti-bacterial cleaning products are popular at the moment. They're well priced, provide good utility, and they smell nice and clean. That smell and the promises that the product offers makes a parent feel good because she or he believes that they are protecting their child's health.

The reality, however, is that anti-bacterial products may be dangerous because they create antibiotic resistant bacteria, and this could cost the child's life sometime in the future. In fact, the FDA has come out and said that there is no evidence that anti-bacterial soaps even stop the spread of germs – so they are probably no more effective than ordinary soap and water in preventing illness.

The side-effects or consequences of anti-bacterial soap, however, are more serious. Not only does the use of anti-bacterial soap's chief ingredient triclosan potentially encourage the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but some studies suggest that children exposed to triclosan have a higher chance of developing allergies. And it's bad for the environment because it disrupts algae's ability to perform photosynthesis.

Here are some steps, using a 'soap' company as an example, that brands can take to move from a value positioning to a relevance positioning:

Messaging

Publish content that is relevant and in the public interest. This can range from recipes for homemade cleaning products that do a good job. For example, recipes involving lemon, vinegar and salt.

Inform your audience about the potential risks of anti-bacterial soaps – and keep them informed as the 'story' unfolds.

Provide other tips on how mothers (or fathers) can keep their children and their homes clean, from tips and techniques to the latest findings on child health. Make your brand the 'go to' place for families that want healthy children now and in the future, with professional content that puts the public interest first.

In that way, your soap brand starts to be associated with health and family.

Utility

Target the people who are most likely to benefit from your product or service, and steer others elsewhere. Put your customers ahead of the sales numbers and their trust will eventually reward you. In other words, niche better.

Highlight the social, health and environmental benefits of your product, but make sure you are addressing the real needs of your audience. A family that buys anti-bacterial soap probably aren't buying the product because it cleans so well, but because they want to stop the spread of illness and keep their family healthy. The motives may seem similar, but are quite different (a body of content around family health would also be a good idea).

Consequences ahead of results

If you have concerns about the possible long-term consequences of your product, put in place steps to transition to one that is better for people and the environment. It disrupts the business, but that's better than disappearing overnight when people catch on.

The new product – as with the homemade soap recipes – may not achieve results as good as the current product, but remember that consequences count more than results.

Failing to make your brand and brand messages relevant to the needs of your audience in a way that aligns and affirms our collective conscience could invite a backlash from which it may be almost impossible to escape.