Chief Marketing Officer

American Cancer Society Executive Describes How to Build an Emotional Brand Connection

Irma Shrivastava, Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Alliances at the American Cancer Society (ACS), provided tips to help marketers foster emotional brand connections with their target audiences during her keynote presentation to Argyle’s CMO membership at the 2018 Marketing Leadership Forum in Atlanta on June 21. In her presentation, “Finding Our Real Thing,” Shrivastava shared her experiences with Coca-Cola and ACS and explained how marketers can build consumer trust and loyalty.

At Coca-Cola, the marketing team prioritized human connections, Shrivastava said. This approach enabled Coca-Cola to engage with consumers and build long-lasting emotional connections with them. As a result, Coca-Cola developed successful campaigns that helped the soft drink company keep pace with its chief rivals.

“Coca-Cola has been profound in making human connections,” Shrivastava stated. “Coca-Cola makes a real powerful statement about being the real thing.”

Comparatively, ACS does not sell products. The nonprofit organization instead supports cancer patients and provides cancer research, tools and resources.

Shrivastava indicated most people do not understand ACS’s mission and goals. Conversely, people often believe ACS focuses exclusively on cancer research and ignore the organization’s advocacy efforts.

“Our research and advocacy efforts are well-known, but we do so much more,” Shrivastava said. “We help people with their immediate needs when they are diagnosed with cancer.”

To teach people about all that ACS offers, the organization explored ways to build emotional connections with its target audience. These connections ultimately provided the foundation for ACS’s marketing efforts.

“We’ve got to create an emotional connection,” Shrivastava noted. “The core essence of what we have to do … is provide an emotional feeling [to a target audience].”

Shrivastava wanted ACS to use the same approach that Coca-Cola used in its marketing campaigns. Yet doing so proved to be challenging due in part to the differences between the target audiences of Coca-Cola and ACS.

“Our work was cut out for us,” Shrivastava indicated. “I wasn’t thinking about a favorite soft drink … I was thinking about life-saving cancer control efforts that really mattered.”

ACS had a sterling reputation, and as such, was equipped to foster loyalty and trust with people around the world. The organization’s marketing team understood the importance of fostering emotional connections with its target audience and developed a plan to do just that.

“People knew we were part of making things happen, and our credibility and our trust level was high,” Shrivastava pointed out. “But now, we were starting to have an emotional connection that was so important.”

ACS wanted to drive “brand love,” which could lead individuals to become global brand advocates. If ACS could engage its target audience, it would be able to drive people to take action. Then, individuals could work with ACS to become difference-makers in their respective communities – something that could lead to global change.

Brand love is when you start to see people take action and make change,” Shrivastava indicated.

To accomplish its goal, ACS examined opportunities to highlight cancer patients in its marketing campaigns. This enabled ACS to educate people about all aspects of cancer, as well as teach individuals how they could help cancer patients.

“When you bring to life this idea of attacking [cancer] from every angle … that helps get people energized and excited,” Shrivastava stated.

Furthermore, ACS personalized the cancer experience. The organization developed videos and other media that illustrated the experiences of cancer patients. That way, ACS was able to provide cancer patients with an outlet to share their experiences with others. Best of all, ACS offered insights into how people can get involved with the organization to assist cancer patients.

“We went small to go big,” Shrivastava said. “We went into the specific stories of the people who were impacted by what we do … and shared those stories by going in close so people could see and feel the story.”

The ability to share cancer patients’ stories has delivered immediate results. These stories allowed ACS to promote its mission and goals, along with ensured that cancer patients could receive unprecedented support.

Organizations – regardless of industry – can follow in the ACS’s footsteps. These organizations can select client stories and share them with their target audiences. By doing so, an organization can bring its mission and goals to life like never before.

“We had to select stories … that were impactful to the service that the American Cancer Society provided,” Shrivastava noted. “We were fortunate that there were so many stories and so many people that wanted to come forward, and we had to pick the right stories to bring to life.”

As organizations search for ways to stand out from the competition, personalization is key. If marketers examine opportunities to engage with consumers, they could identify innovative ways to foster long-term partnerships. Meanwhile, these partnerships could help an organization simultaneously expand its global reach and build trust with its target audience.

Visit Argyle Executive Forum's Marketing & Customer Experience Outlook 2021 in Virtual Forum, on Jul 14, 2020

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