The Chief Marketing Officer of eco-friendly megabrand Seventh Generation talks about the fundamentals of brand building as he sees them, why his entire budget goes to digital, and where he's placing his bets.

September 2012

Think with Google: What do you see as the fundamentals of brand building?

Joey Bergstein: First, you have to start with great storytelling. Know what your brand is all about, what it stands for, what your mission is, and be able to tell the story in a compelling way.

From there, understand the target consumer. They may not be like the vast majority. Clearly define who they are, and be confident that doing a good job on the core target consumer has a far-reaching impact.

Part of understanding the consumer is understanding the challenge, the behavior change you are trying to incite. Is the customer unaware of your brand? Have the tried it but are not buying frequently? At Seventh Generation, we have passionate consumers. Even before we try to bring in new ones, we think about how to get people already in our franchise to buy more products or to tell their friends.

Marketing plans should be in service of delivering against those simple core objectives.

TwG: Have these changed in the digital age? If so, how?

JB: Yes and no. The core fundamentals have not, because that's strategic thinking. What's changed is how you create and nurture a relationship.

Today, we have far more information and access than we did a decade ago. While TV hasn't changed that much, social media tools and Google search mean that you can be in front of your customers more frequently. You can share meaningful posts and updates with them. This helps you stay connected to your consumers in a much more intimate way.

The nature of conversation has changed a lot too. I began my career at P&G and we knew that the biggest motivators were friend recommendations, but we always discarded that information because there was no way to act on it. Now you have entire ecosystems devoted to friends recommending products, and it's actionable and measurable.

TwG: Seventh Generation doesn't buy TV ads. Why is that?

JB: The brand is small, we don't operate with a huge budget, in fact our whole budget would only buy a week of TV. That's simply not an option. For the same money, we can create continuous conversation with consumers online. There's an opportunity online to create much more continuity.

You need to be clear about what your brand stands for. Then, when you enable consumers to "take control" of it and make it their own, they'll likely do so in a way which is consistent with the brand's values.

TwG: Can you do storytelling through digital? How does it play into your overall digital strategy?

JB: On a website you can. In fact, a website can be a much richer experience than a :30 sec TV commercial. It really helps us stay connected to our customers. We can engage them in meaningful conversation around what they are passionate about, like an eco-friendly lifestyle.

When it comes to our overall digital strategy, we are still in a mode of discovery and experimentation -- seeing what works and what doesn't. We've found that Google search helps drive traffic to our site, where we can grow a big database of customers who sign up for our newsletters. We get about 200,000 uniques a month, which is big for a company our size.

We see that both consumers on Facebook and in our database are heavier consumers and their usage grows over time. Once they friend or join, we can create a continual conversation that does a good job of introducing them to new products.

We also do display advertising online, and we're exploring more integrated partnerships with media properties, looking to play a role in the content they are creating through sponsorships.

TwG: Do you think "big ideas" can live in digital?

JB: I hope they can. You lose a little of the full world visibility for the brand if you're just online though. There is something to be said for "surround sound marketing." The more touchpoints you can use to bring your brand idea to life, the more the brand becomes a part of popular culture. If you're just in one space, your brand can become one-dimensional. But when you talk about digital, you're talking about a bunch of different screens - mobile, tablet, laptop. If you're in all these places, your brand can become more integrated into every moment of a consumer's life. In a world of tough choices, digital is a choice that's easily made.

TwG: We talk about organizations giving up control over their brands to consumers and the communities around them. But brands also need to know what they stand for, to have a core set of values, to be consistent and clear in their communications.... Aren't these opposing forces? How do you strike a balance?

JB: I see these things as not opposing forces but sequential and iterative. In order for a brand to be open, it needs to not only know what it stands for, but act in a way that consumers understand what the brand stands for. This is about more than "advertising" to express a brand point of view, but taking a stand on issues that brings to life what the brand is about.

This is something that Seventh Generation has done consistently since its inception, be it through programs like the Million Baby Crawl, standing for the Safe Chemicals Act, supporting Healthy Child, Healthy World, putting all ingredients on packaging (despite the fact that it's not required by the regulatory authorities), being one of the original B Corps and so on. Each of the these acts help define and make clear to consumers what Seventh Generation stands for.

You need to be clear about what your brand stands for. Then, when you enable consumers to "take control" of it and make it their own, they'll likely do so in a way which is consistent with the brand's values. This can also provide unexpected insight into how consumers see your brand and what it means to them. The more consumers invent around the brand, the stronger the brand will be, and the more you'll be able to learn from consumers to make that much stronger still.