Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tyson Foods Proves Value of Focus in Cause Branding

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what *you* have to find out.

-- Source


Ed Nicholson draws a bright line between cause marketing and what he calls cause branding. As director of community and public relations at Tyson Foods, responsibility for the company’s social media efforts fell to Nicholson. His presentation at lasts week’s #BlogWell Cincinnati was a case study in the evolution of a brand, a company and of a public relations career.

Two Big Lessons:

1. Brands that focus – not only in the creative brief but in their community involvement – define themselves more clearly and make it easier for their audiences to understand and relate to essential brand traits.

His formal presentation detailed how Tyson uses its social media presence – on both public and proprietary platforms – to build a community around the issue of hunger. This focus not only mobilizes the energy and action of customers, partners and 107,000 US employees, it creates a unified identity for the Tyson brand. By focusing on a single issue, he and his team are able to set the context – establish the Dominant Narrative – for Tyson in way that is both true and beneficial to company goals.

This is, of course, easier said than done. Marketers at organizations large and small wrestle with narrowing the playing field as they’re trained to look for opportunities everywhere. I asked Ed if he got any resistance from general management to sticking so closely to a single issue. Surprisingly, he reports very little push-back, perhaps in part due to the results of his efforts. He even credits the ambient awareness cooked up by Tyson’s SocMed engagement to increases in traditional media coverage of the brand and of its philanthropic efforts.

An early mentor of mine explained the importance of focus using a fairly morbid analogy I have since updated periodically:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 440,000 deaths in the United States each year related to smoking. And yet, there is a surprisingly small organized movement to outlaw smoking except as it impacts the health and comfort of non-smokers. Because these deaths are dispersed and happen gradually, they register in the public consciousness as, well, a shame … but not a call to arms.

If, on the other hand, you picked up your morning newspaper (remember those?) to learn that overnight the use of tobacco products had claimed the lives of every man, woman and child in Omaha, Neb. Things might play out differently.

Focus, likewise, is a key to branding. Read the creative brief. What does your brand stand for? All the follows or friends in the world don’t advance the cause if your efforts aren’t consistent with the strategy.

That’s why some big companies become houses of brands instead of branded houses. We all know (at least in this business) that General Mills makes Go Lean. We also know they make Trix. But our relationship is not with General Mills, it’s with the individual brands.

Of course there are exceptions to the whole focus thing. It a rule, not a law n’ stuff. Jeez.

But if your strategy is to take credit for doing some good in the world … focus. Do you think you’d get more attention for sending one kid in each state to college or for sending the entire graduating class of Millard Fillmore High in Maysville?

2. Stay on Message

On the surface, hunger sounds like a pretty non-controversial issue. But Tyson’s mileage has at times varied. Nicholson’s advice: Don’t engage the haters. You waste your time and resources debating people who aren’t interested in having a relationship. You also just rile them and attract more to their cause. Face it: some people just will not be persuaded.

Tyson has some natural allies and some natural opponents. By engaging both, Ed manages to keep the conversation lively without getting into flame wars. Meanwhile, Nicholson reports some wins in this area such as Tweets from former opponents saying things like [paraphrasing]: “I’m a vegan and I don’t use your product but I appreciate what you’re doing.”

That’s full of win.

More here and here


Ed Nicholson said...

Thanks, Daniel. You make me sound much smarter than I am. Now I have a new blog to which to subscribe.
Really appreciate the hospitality shown by all from Cincinnati. You have a beautiful city.

Lally said...

Thanks! We built it from a kit!

Really enjoyed the preso and the lesson resonate in many areas.