Brand management best practices seemingly change overnight in the digital and social worlds, but there are timeless truisms that reflect basic human nature when attempting to connect the rational with the emotional. Establishing this connection is the #1 goal of marketers, yet many fall short because they overlook the fundamentals. In his 2003 book, The Brand Gap, author and brand strategist Marty Neumeier poses three enduring questions that have the power to bring high-level marketing and executive meetings to a screeching halt:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why does it matter?
Ten different employees within the same organization will likely supply ten differing answers to these simple questions. This reality presents a frustrating challenge for modern marketers attempting to craft sustainable brand narratives for both internal and external audiences that are moving at the speed of light in the digital world. However, organizations that are accurately able to answer these three questions are in a much better position to manage their shared vision and foster reciprocal relationships with their customers. These organizations will also be advantaged within the marketplace.
Neumeier also cuts to the quick of the most powerful idea in modern brand management with just a few additional words: “A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Likewise, organizations that take the time to embrace this idea before crafting their brand stories will find it much easier to connect the rational with the emotional in their marketing efforts. We hear a lot of the same buzzwords in modern marketing parlance: “human,” “authentic,” “awareness,” “conversation.” But they’re all reflective of the above idea: the need to foster genuine, two-way communication with our respective audiences.
The Forest Industry’s Historical Silence
The forest products industry has a history of avoiding these conversations. This is not unexpected; after all, many of them have tended to be unpleasant, one-sided conversations. Industry opponents are often long on emotional charges and short on data to back them up, which is a topic we recently covered. But the conversation is changing, thanks to a number of forest industry organizations who proudly showcase their transparent sustainability and conservation initiatives, as well as their positive contributions to the larger discussion. The data speaks for itself, and it overwhelmingly proves that working forests are healthy forests that benefit us all.
To that end, a new organization has been formed to help participants in the forest products industry proactively engage in sharing the positive brand narrative of modern forestry. The North American Forest Partnership (NAFP) initiative is uniting diverse partners from every part of the forest value chain to tell their individual stories and contribute to the larger discussion about the importance of maintaining working forestlands. There is a real need for sharing this information via modern platforms, as misperceptions have driven the reputation of the industry for decades due to distortions and misinformation. There is also a need to build a community within the industry to find and leverage this common ground, and the NAFP is poised to make this a reality.
Content is (Still) King
One of the primary goals of NAFP is to build a set of shared resources for all organizations within the forest products community (agencies, conservation groups, companies, trade associations, universities, foresters, professional associations, landowners and others) that contains cohesive, consistent messaging. The industry must be able to broadly answer Neumeier’s three questions to actively engage in effective storytelling, and these resources will provide members of the sector with the ability to do just that. The NAFP will establish a collection of detailed scientific research, case studies, training programs, recruitment tools, social media messages, website development and much more, which can then be shared by members of the forest products community through modern platforms.
Since many of these platforms are limiting in scope, or offer custom interface experiences, the NAFP database will also offer everything from bite-sized, pre-packaged Twitter content, to shareable forestry images tailored for Instagram—and everything in between. This takes the guesswork and inconsistency out of social media engagement, and offers seamless, consistent content for sharing.
Tom Martin, President and CEO of American Forest Foundation (AFF) recently noted that the industry needs to provide audiences with more information via channels and sources that they trust. This can be accomplished by leading with stories that highlight the focus and passion of people who work in the forestry sector. “Our storytelling portal enables sector members to tell their story and engage audiences in dialogue on our priorities and activities,” he said.
While the NAFP initiative will take time to develop and implement, it is a welcomed, if long-overdue contribution to the entire forest products industry and the broader forest community. For far too long, critics have been defining the brand narrative of the sector in a one-sided conversation. The NAFP’s proactive approach will allow participants in the industry to actually join this conversation, and really begin to impact how “they” define the forest products brand.