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Why The Most Successful Brands Have Heart

Coffee beans in the shape of a heart on a white table.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash


The most successful brands today don’t just sell products and services, but they also connect with their customers on a human level. While building a loyal customer base is still about creating quality products, conveying a sense of purpose and human values is key. In the Girls’ Lounge at shop.org, Martine Reardon, former CMO of Macy’s, shared her insights about the need for brands to understand who their consumers really are, as well as why it’s crucial for them to embody values such as equality by accurately portraying women in ads.

Think of Your Brand as a Person

Reardon transformed Macy’s from “a store” into what Shelley Zalis describes as “an experience” by humanizing the brand.
“What distinguishes great brands from good brands is leadership that looks at a brand as being a person,” says Martine.
Martine describes how a brand should reflect a personality with whom the consumers can relate, asking, “If [the brand] were a dinner party or cocktail party, what would you want it to feel like? When you leave out the emotion, you leave out that engagement you have with the consumer.”

Former Macy's CMO Martine Reardon with Shelley Zalis in the Girls' Lounge at Shop.org.

Former Macy’s CMO Martine Reardon with Shelley Zalis in the Girls’ Lounge at Shop.org.

Give Back With Generosity

Understanding the Macy’s consumer helped steer it towards giving back to causes that its customers care about. “The amount of philanthropy that we did as a brand goes back to understanding the consumer at the core,” says Martine. “Those kinds of things took Macy’s away from a place to go and buy products to a place that has heart.”
Martine says that Macy’s became the largest in-cash donor to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “That’s what touches consumers and makes us a little bit more human.”

Advance Equality in Advertising by Representing All Women

Ads that accurately portray women and girls perform 26% better than ads that don’t, according to a study of more than 40,000 ads and media by the ANA #SeeHer movement.
“There’s not just one [type of] woman out there, there are many and let’s celebrate all of them,” says Martine, who called out the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which launched in 2004, for helping to unlock the conversation around stereotypes. “What are we thinking when we just have this one specific way of representing women? We need to represent all women, and we need to represent real women,” she says. “If you care about your consumer, let’s give your consumer something real to look at.”

Why The Most Successful Brands Have Heart

Martine says mobile technology — specifically the creation of apps that allow a mobile shopping experience — catapulted Macy’s  e-commerce business, and now it is the fourth largest retailer in the US. She says the big things right now are AI and blockchain, which will disrupt retail as the technologies evolves. “Staying ahead of digital innovation is key for helping a brand succeed,” says Martine.
Whether you’re building a business brand or your personal brand, Martine’s lessons about authentically conveying passion, purpose, and personality is sound career advice.
Watch the full panel discussion here.
For more on how equality messaging in ads is good for business, check out:
All The Single Ladies: The Rise Of The Independent Woman
A Surprising Reason For Gender Equality in Ads–And How To Fix It
Katie Couric & Top Leaders On the State Of Women in Media & Ads