How did your best friend become your best friend? How about your spouse?

At some point the superficial relationship must have become more interesting, more fulfilling and more mutually beneficial. If the relationship was lacking in any one of those areas, it would have stayed superficial. This is what we meant last week when we posted that “Next Era of Brand & Consumer Relationships will be Peer to Peer.

Most brand marketing to date has been about creating emotional relationships between human beings (aka “consumers”) and individual products (aka “brands”). As a secondary or tertiary objective, there might be an effort to create a relationship between consumers and the company that made the products – but there seemed to be risk to that (primary risk to the warm fuzzy emotional feelings a brand was better able to create if disassociated from the parent company). What General Mills seems to be opening themselves up to is creating relationships between consumers and the people who make the products…and in doing so, the product (and the brand) become a co-creation of the consumer and company. Brilliant. And scary. But then again, most brilliant things are scary. If it wasn’t a little bit scary, if it didn’t involve some degree of vulnerability, then everyone would be doing it.

Why the timing is right for this “brand purpose” movement…

In an era where push marketing media options were plentiful, marketers could be effective with consumer to brand relationships that were relatively superficial  – as in “if you love your family, you’ll buy Downy” or “wear this product and you’ll be cool” and other slightly veiled, but effective forms of emotional blackmail. For years, this worked and it was fine – for both marketers and consumers.

But today’s consumer is grown up, they know better and they have more control over their influences. We could say that they are, perhaps, just a tad more confident and well-adjusted than the soap opera audiences of the 50’s and 60’s?

Further, consumers are hard to find en masse on any particular media. Procter & Gamble may have the largest advertising budget  ($4.8B) – but they disperse that budget over 39-41 wholly different brands.  In contrast, most of the other “top ten spenders” are applying their $2B-$3B advertising budgets to promote 1-5 brands. Even if CPG had the same opportunities for online efficiency as marketers in other verticals (and they don’t, more on that in a later post)…unless they create breakthrough content that is sought out by consumers, it is going to get increasingly difficult.

So, well  done General Mills…it’s hard and you’ll have some flops, but all innovation starts with a willingness to be vulnerable, to be wrong and to change. When you’ve got established, highly valued brands that have been around for a really long time…that is harder than you might think.

“General Mills CMO: The Key To Good Marketing Is Having A Purpose” 

Susan O’Neal Gear,  founder of Upstream Insight, has over 20 years of experience at the intersection of consumers, marketing and technology. Passionate about all aspects of a consumers relationship with brands and retailers, we’re spending the next year looking for new, groundbreaking thought leadership  – if not disruptive solutions – with the potential to redefine the parameters of consumer loyalty. If you also want to see some game changing happen -then follow Upstream Insight, contribute your voice, share this post…do something!