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Brad Breininger & Marko Zonta

Zync - Journal | Can brands build community?

Discussing the role of brands in communities.

Can brands build community?

Do brands have a responsibility to reach out to the communities they are in? Is community-building good business?

Whether it’s the community that brands are in, their online community, or their social community, how far does their influence go?

Are big brands like Walmart, TD Bank, and Twitter doing enough with their communities? Can the current community-building going on with Reddit and GameStop change the game in the financial world?

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Recorded on January 29th, 2021


Brad Breininger: 0:00

Hi, everyone, and welcome to this week’s Everything is Brand. This week, we want to explore the question: Can brands build community? Do they have a responsibility to reach out to the communities that they are in? And do they want to do that? Does it help their business? And does it help drive the brand forward? Let’s explore. Alright, so brands and community, I mean, we can break this down in a whole bunch of different ways community can be the community that brands are in, it can be the community that they build online, it can be the social community that they build, it can even be the charities and the not for profits that they support. There’s a wide range of what community can mean. But in the end, can a brand have influence over that? What do you guys think?

Gabi Gomes: 0:53

Well, I think that brands should be part of the community. I mean, we’re talking about big establishments, in most cases, big brands being part, physically part of a community. So I think that they have a responsibility to that community that they’re in, inevitably, they are a big magnet, let’s just talk about Walmart, for example. We’re talking about huge conglomerate that comes into a small community area, take up a big footprint. I think there is a bit of a responsibility that goes with that to that community, whether you’re offering products tailored to that community. So let’s switch gears for a bit and think about grocery stores offering ethnic foods or whatnot to that area, well, then, does it need to go beyond it? Does it need to go beyond the products that they serve, but as well as the communication that they have to that community? Must we always speak in English? Or should we also be speaking in other languages in those communities?

Brad Breininger: 1:52

Yeah. And I think one of the key things around that is whether or not, we need to put the responsibility for some of those things on to the brands, really, in a lot of cases, it’s just good business for brands to do that, for them to offer ethnic products or communicate in different languages. Because what it does is it brings people in to their business that they may not otherwise have attracted. And so I think it’s less about responsibility. And it’s more about opportunity. There’s a lot of expectation, sometimes that brands are going to somehow change a communit. You hear often when big brand is coming in, and they’re building a warehouse or something like that. There’s almost like an a responsibility, that community that comes with their entrance into that community. And you know, whether that’s physical in that case, or whether it’s even online. If you look at what’s happened with Twitter over the last little while, where there’s been this call on them to police the platform, that’s a situation where they have to take a role in the community that they might not have expected to have to take.

Marko Zonta: 3:00

I think that when it comes to brands within communities, I think a lot of it has to do with loyalty, right? They can actually take the angle of building loyalty by connecting with the community, in a personal way, in a way that the community actually can respond to that particular brand or relate to that brand. I do think that brands have a certain amount of responsibility in some cases, because for example, to Gabi’s point, they’re good at talking about for selling ethnic food, let’s say or responding with products that relates to that particular community. But when it comes to different messaging, let’s say around wearing masks and things like that, is it all just in English? And should it be in other languages as well? Right. So I think that brands could actually take on that task of providing that information. And quite frankly, I really do think that that could build loyalty, people would actually feel like that particular business -it doesn’t really matter whether it’s retail or any other business- they would actually feel a lot more a part of that community in whatever way that may be.

Gabi Gomes: 4:15

I think brands have a responsibility to the community, you are entering that community, you’re servicing that community, absolutely, they should be communicating in those languages. Let’s take COVID for example. And let’s think of what we’re facing right now with everybody needing to wear masks everybody needing to sanitize their hands staying six feet apart. I have yet to walk into a Walmart in my community that is predominantly Portuguese where I frequent and there’s no signage, there’s no signs in Portuguese saying wear your mask or whatnot, or whatever. I’m thinking future vaccine clinics, something like that. There’s none of that. In fact, I don’t even see any billboards from Health Canada or Ontario or even Toronto, or any of that sort of communication in the community in that language. And let’s think about this, we are a melting pot, Toronto as well as Canada. We have many, many cultures in here. So why aren’t we? I mean, we want the dollars from these people. But why aren’t we helping these people in their languages? I mean, we’ve got a national pandemic here, why aren’t we helping? and leveraging the tools that we have in those languages to help the cause? Why aren’t big brands doing something more other than offering up products in those communities to for profit, basically, why aren’t we doing something? Why aren’t we doing more in those languages in those communities?

Marko Zonta: 5:47

I mean, you could say that there is a bit of a breakdown in terms of businesses and how they operate, what their role is, versus governments will in this situation. And quite frankly, I think that we’re actually dealing with a little bit of a trust issue as well, I think that people lost some trust in the way the government is handling the situation, definitely some brands as well. And to that point, brands could take advantage of that in a positive way, and actually build that connection with the community. To Brad’s point earlier, it doesn’t have to necessarily just be a neighborhood, you walk into a store, this can be done through social media, it can be done on the website, it can be done through all those different channels, it really depends on who your audience is and how you interact with them. But it is an opportunity to actually build goodwill. And I think that for any brand, that is so important in it’s extremely valuable, right? If you have a lot of goodwill built into your brand into your image, that will go a long way when perhaps your business is going to make a mistake at some point. And then the fact that you have that goodwill built into it will get you through that.

Gabi Gomes: 6:58

We’ve seen financial institutions do it, right. They’ve been TV, for example, whether they align themselves with pride in the pride parade in the gay community, or whether they do local marketing in those neighborhoods in their languages. They’ve done it really well now, are they doing it because they want your money? Most likely, they want you to bank there, they want you to give them all their investments. So yes, they’ll be putting out communication in your language that way. So they’ve been doing it successfully, I think for for many years, but we don’t see it from other brands.

Jeremy Linskill: 7:32

But doesn’t that come across as genuine? Like, I don’t know, when I see that stuff. I don’t really believe it. So I don’t know if it helps or hurts them. Because you’re a big brand like that. And you’re putting yourself out there, I think to that exact point. It’s just you want my business. It’s not you’re doing not doing it out of your love for whatever it is. You’re doing it because you want my business and I don’t know if that helps or hurts.

Gabi Gomes: 7:57

Well, this is this is where it can fall apart. Right? You’re absolutely right. Where I do think that it does work well is you’ve got will take a Portuguese community will take Dundas and, and ossington. For example, Portuguese community, there’s a TD Bank there, there’s language, signage, materials and Portuguese. And they’ve also got Portuguese speaking, customer service reps inside and staff inside that can service that community. So that to me is not disingenuous, right. However, if you only do one part of that, and all of a sudden you walk into another community with a different language, but you’ve got nobody inside that can help in that language, then absolutely, it’s disingenuous, as well as other communities, whether it is TD and and the gay community, you know, is that I don’t know, like, from an outsider kind of looking at it. It’s easy for brands to attach themselves to a cause or whatever, and send a few bucks their way, however, is that really permeated in the brand. And I think that’s where it’s got to happen, right? You really got to be believe in what you’re doing through and through in order for it to, to actually work.

Brad Breininger: 9:13

Yeah, it comes down to a couple of things. The first one is authenticity. To your point, Jeremy, if, if the authenticity isn’t there, if it just feels like the brand is trying to only get without giving, then that’s going to come through loud and clear and people it’s really going to feel disingenuous. The other thing is that it goes back to our initial question, which is can brands build community. Building Community means that you participate, it means that you are an active member of that community, whether it’s live or online or in social. But if you’re just there to take if you’re just there to drum up business, then you’re not really building anything you’re just trying to take and and i think that people will see through that pretty quickly. When organizations give back, it shows a side to the brand that is a little more human than perhaps the business side, at the end of the day, organizations have to make money and they have to exist. But but the giving back part and the participation in community is a little bit of the human element that can be built into these brands to help round them out a little bit. And it doesn’t mean that there’s not an upside for them. The upside is that they gain access to audiences that they might not have had access to before, Gabi brought up a really good example, which is involvement in pride in the gay community. You know, in the early days of that, it really was about joining the community. But over time, it’s felt more and more like a just a big marketing push. And the rainbow flag has just become yet another logo that gets added to whatever everyone else is doing. And so it starts to lose a little bit of that authenticity, a little bit of that genuineness that I think is really crucial to this topic that if a brand does want to help build community, they have to participate. They can’t

Jeremy Linskill: 11:11

I think a big part of that, too, is first in just take, right, the people that brands get involved early are the ones that look the most genuine in that sense or authentic, the ones that come in late, I always find they’re just jumping on the bandwagon. Right. So I think there’s a big part of that, as well.

Marko Zonta: 11:28

Yeah, I was gonna actually exactly that point, I was going to talk to the fact that if you want to be authentic, you know, even if you’re a part of a larger community, in terms of a lot of businesses kind of participating in one particular area, I think you can still do that. And quite frankly, if you’re doing it for the right reasons, it’s still a positive thing for any brand. But you will get a lot more attention, I guess, if you are picking something that is either unique, or a fresh, you know, issue in a community, or something where you can really become a leader in that particular cause. I think that that is something that brands look for in marketing, as we always look for that whitespace or that new opportunity, that new angle that how do you differentiate yourself, as much as people may think that you’re kind of taking advantage of the situation or a problem in the community, or whatever the cause maybe it is also an opportunity for you to grow as a brand, internally and externally, to actually take something on and change the culture within your own organization help the community at the same time. And I think that that can only be positive, sometimes it cannot come across a little bit self serving. But I would say to not do anything because of that fear, I think would be a mistake.

Gabi Gomes: 12:51

Listen, great example. Dairy Queen, my local Dairy Queen. We know Warren Buffett owns Dairy Queen. Does Warren Buffett need my $5 ice cream? No, it does not. However, my local Dairy Queen is owned by you know, a young guy, young family. He supports he employs the kids in the neighborhood. He supports the local soccer and hockey teams in that community. And guess what? I go there and I give him my five bucks. I don’t give Warren Buffett my five bucks. I give that particular local establishment, my money, right? Because of what they’re doing in the community. So when we think of large brands, I think as large as they are, they have a role to play in the communities that they are in. Even your as large as they are.

Brad Breininger: 13:48

Yeah, you bring up a good point, Gabby. And I think that the large brands can kind of take a page out of the playbook of what small businesses have done for a very long time, which is put feelers out into the community, whether it’s supporting a local baseball team or participating in fairs or exhibits in their local community or getting involved in street parties and using that almost as a way to reach out. It’s interesting because the online opportunity for larger brands, even midsize and larger brands now, to participate and build community is huge. And taking some of those examples of what small businesses have done for a very long time. But you can start to build online, whether it’s participating in chats, whether it’s serving webinars, whether it’s putting things out there online that allow you to target some of the niche members of your audiences and break down your audiences instead of just consumers or people looking for a particular service, you start to break down your audiences into these smaller niches. And that is the real opportunity to start to build community because when you just look at people as a whole, it’s very difficult to build a community, it’s, you don’t hear about people having deep roots to the fact that we’re all human beings living on the earth, it tends to be much more about your neighborhood or your local city or province or state or country or whatever it might be. We have this idea that the more we can connect with people, the more integrated we become. And at the end of the day, that’s what community is, it’s that integration. And the opportunity online now is for some of these midsize and larger brands to do that, and to be able to build connections, and back and forth conversations and ongoing interactions with these smaller groups of people, which ultimately creates a community of their audiences.

Marko Zonta: 15:50

It comes down to knowing your audience, knowing what type of community you’re in paying attention to what that community is going through, and then responding to that. And that can go for any type of business, whether it’s a small business, midsize business, large business, obviously, you will respond in a different way, whether it’s financially or volunteering or doing something else. But that is a good way to actually knowing your audience and respond to that you will be building loyalty and brand recognition by getting involved.

Gabi Gomes: 16:21

But beyond products, we’re not just talking about the products, we’re talking beyond the products.

Brad Breininger: 16:29

Right. That’s a great point. Gabi, So let’s take Twitter, for example. So building a community, if someone comes into the community, I mean, a great example in the real world is Neighborhood Watch, everyone kind of looks out for people coming in to cause harm to the community with what’s been going on with some of the let’s call it fake news or unverified facts that have been rolling around on Twitter, there was a huge call from the public for them to police their community. Do you think that they had a responsibility to do that? Do you think that that should fall on them to police the community as well as build it?

Jeremy Linskill: 17:10

Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I think that’s we’re getting into the area of censorship. So it’s a challenging one, right? Yeah, I think it’s tough. I think it’s, you have to throw it back to the audience to unfollow or block out those things, those comments on Twitter or whatever we’re talking about? Is it more in that space? Like it’s the responsibility of people that are involved to walk away? Because I think maybe you get into having a large conglomerate like Twitter start to screen individuals who are things like that, it becomes a censorship question. And then you go the other way. So I don’t know what the answer is. I mean, but I think it’s a it’s a very difficult question to answer.

Brad Breininger: 17:53

It’s kind of the dark side of community, right? It’s kind of the dark side. I mean, it’s all well, and good to say, let’s put forward different languages, and let’s reach out to all of our different audiences. But then, with all of a sudden an audience who is sharing information that may or may not be true, and it starts to color the messaging, then what do you do? How do you deal with that?

Jeremy Linskill: 18:15

Just to further elaborate, if we’re going back to talking about in smaller communities guy was talking about the Portuguese community? Well, what about the Asian people that have to live in that neighborhood to or, and then it becomes that whole gray area of, well, you put a sign for them? Why don’t you put up a sign for me? And so to go to the dark side of all this conversation, I mean, you can go the other way, you know, where the businesses are choosing to go with the the general consensus of Toronto as opposed to the individual neighborhood? And should they be faulted for that? I don’t know. Because you can’t make everybody happy all the time. It just doesn’t work. There’s just no way to do that. Whether you’re talking to Twitter, are you talking about your local TD Bank? I think that that’s the ultimate sort of comment there.

Christian Rosenthal | ZYNC: 19:00

Yeah. And another thing that we haven’t discussed, is the power that communities have, I believe, a great community can build up a brand or can take it down. Just take a look at what happened a couple of days ago with GameStop and Reddit. I mean, Reddit basically went against everything. And considering that GameStop is on the verge of dying, they bumped their stock price, what… 2,000% So that’s huge.

Jeremy Linskill: 19:43

Further to that point, like I just read a headline I’ve read the entire article, but the app Robin Hood basically stepped in and shut that down. So going to you know what Brad was saying earlier, but Twitter and policing their users, Robin Hood, this app did exactly that. And I don’t know where this is gonna go or how people are gonna feel about that.

Christian Rosenthal | ZYNC: 20:05

Well, they’re already talking about lawsuit.

Brad Breininger: 20:09

Robin Hood stepped in and they stopped trading for regular traders, but the hedge funds themselves are still allowed to trade the stocks. So it’s not a question of whether or not the community completely shut down the brand, there are still rules and regulations that are going on that favor certain members of the community over the other. So as much as we talk about community, and as much as we talk about participating, there is this truth that the end of the day the brands will still do what they need to do in order to make sure that business goes forward, the community has a voice. And it’s really about I think, creating those conversations and bringing things to light that perhaps were never brought to light before. If you look throughout history, the idea that there would somehow be Portuguese or Chinese, well, Mandarin or Cantonese or Punjabi signs in a local community. That wasn’t even a consideration. The idea was, well, you live in an English speaking country, learn to speak English. But the truth is that that’s not what the community wanted. And so the community is so important in driving things forward. So when we ask the question, can brands help build community? I think they have to. And as those communities are built, it’s what changes things as we go forward. To your point, Jeremy, it’s never going to be perfect. It’s never going to be exactly the way we want it to be. But what it does is it shows progress. And it shows this idea that different voices can be heard in different ways at different points in time.

Jeremy Linskill: 21:46

Yeah, constantly changing, right, we have to constantly be going back and forth. You know, testing the waters, challenging things. And if we’re not doing that, we’re not going to evolve. So I definitely think that there’s something there, I just, I go back. And I think about we’re talking about all this and we’re talking about being genuine and all that kind of stuff and talk going back to COVID. And you know, when we I think one of our first podcasts or whatever, we were talking about the commercials that were on TV, and the people were trying to be helpful by posting things to do in their commercials about COVID whether it’s washing their hands, and we were giving them flack because it didn’t make sense because it wasn’t tied to them. And I just think that this is exactly what we’re talking about. Now we’re talking about the other side where we want more people to do more things. But the beginning we were complaining about, you shouldn’t be doing it, it doesn’t make sense for you. So, you know,

Gabi Gomes: 22:32

Well our opinions can evolve over time!

Jeremy Linskill: 22:36

That’s my point. Like, it’s just like, let’s flip the coin and see what mood we’re in today. It’s exactly that that more I think at the basement all, it’s all about challenging, right? It’s all about we should never be standing still, we should always be pushing the limits and challenging things. And that’s what I think I’m going to take away from this conversation, I think the most

Marko Zonta: 22:55

But it’s interesting, what brought this up this topic was like the Premier of Ontario did, a couple weeks ago when he recorded the COVID message in multiple languages. And because one of the complaints was that here they are, they’re sending out this message. And they’re consistently delivering that message in English only. And some some people don’t understand it, they can’t really respond. I think a lot of it has to do with just kind of paying attention to what’s really going on. And whether it’s Twitter, policing, you know, the community, or responding with multiple languages, or whatever it is, yeah, this are difficult questions, I don’t think that there is a right or wrong, or I have to do it, but when not to do it. Again, it comes down to paying attention to who your audience is, and what’s actually going on at that time. Sometimes brands have to do certain things to be present, you have to be present, you have to be paying attention and respond accordingly. So that may mean sometimes you step up, and sometimes you remain quiet, and you just go about your business.

Gabi Gomes: 24:02

So I think that brings up the question of your brand, who does it really belong to? Right? And maybe that’s something we explore on another podcast. But does your brand actually belong to the CEO organization? Or does it actually belong to the audience, the community, the consumer?

Brad Breininger: 24:23

So that right there is next week’s podcast because I think that that’s a that’s a really good topic. So let’s let’s jot that down, you know, goes back to this idea of making sure that if you’re going to be present, and you’re going to be out there, that you’re doing it in a way that that makes sense. And people understand that organizations have to make money but they also want to see a little bit of heart. They also want to see a little bit of humanity involved in there as well. So if you’re jumping on the bandwagon on the washer hands bandwagon. Jer, you’re right. It doesn’t always make sense. But at the same time, I think it’s perfectly fine for brands to get involved in whatever conversation is going on at the time. And it all boils down to this: genuineness, authenticity, being part of the conversation. All of these things are what can build community and organizations often are thought of as these nameless, faceless money making entities. But the reality is, is that people work there, people operate those businesses, people are invested in those businesses and people buy from those businesses. So at the end of the day, it’s all about people. So there has to be a little bit of that humanity. And one of the best way for these brands to tap into that humanity, as long as they’re doing it in an authentic, genuine way, is by helping build community. And whether that’s their online community, whether it’s their local community, whether it’s recognizing that their audiences and their customers are a wide range of different kinds of people who speak different languages who have different ways of looking at the world, as long as they’re not spewing hate speech or something like that, which, again, that can be a whole different conversation. But you know, recognizing the differences that people have is a real opportunity for brands to help build community. So can brands build community not on their own, but by focusing on the people who either work there, or the people who operate it and the people who they reach out to? Yes, they can definitely build community by being very plugged in and understanding where they operate and how they operate and how it reaches the people that they’re trying to connect with. That’s this week’s edition of Everything is Brand new. Join us next week, which we know the new topic is going to be who owns brand joining then and remember, Everything is Brand.

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