Once upon a time, a brand looking to increase sales could slap together a radio commercial, shout out a “Buy! Buy! Buy!” tagline and they were pretty much good to go. Sure consumers may have found this kind of advertising annoying; sure, most of tried their hardest not to pay attention; and sure, there was a big difference between Don Draper artistry, and well, all the rest. But without much choice in the matter, consumers pretty much had to take whatever messaging they got.
Super Bowl commercials aside, that day is pretty much gone. With so many different tools for reaching small and big businesses alike, consumers expect their brands to be engaging, fun, knowledgeable, personable and responsive (almost instantly so). They want to be a key creative contributor to their personal brand experiences and engage in two-way conversations. In short, they want to be active rather than passive consumers of the branding to which they’re subject.
In this environment, the old corporate mentalities of “if we ignore it, they’ll go away” and “consumers will conform to whatever we tell them to” just won’t fly. Consumers demand that their brands be friendly and personable—and they’ll punish them severely in very public places if they’re not. So, just where can a brand even start with this seemingly intimidating task?
1. Give Consumers Agency
Believe it or not, consumers actually want to hear from their favorite brands—they just want to be a part of that message, not passive recipients. A study conducted by Edelman found that as many as 91% of polled consumers wanted to have a hand in the development and design process for their products. They also demanded openness about product performance and they wanted brands to do more to support their personal ambitions. In many developing countries, they even valued a shared experience with brands more than a tight relationship.
These are all things your brand can accomplish by creating a dynamic content and social media strategy that calls on followers to engage in the media they produce. Trying to decide between launching one of two new products? Post a poll on your blog. Looking for new ideas on how you can improve customer service? Pay attention to comments and suggestions on all of your feeds, digging deeper when you receive a complaint so that you can really get a sense of what lies at the heart of the issue. Even something goofy, like wacky pie ideas for your company Thanksgiving feast, is a great way to get consumers involved (perhaps even more so); have followers invent recipes, create their fantastic pie and submit photos for voting, with a nice prize to reward the winner. Engaged in this way, followers will be far more likely to share news from your brand on all of their personal channels than if you simply posted a new release announcement. What’s more, engaging with you this way will help consumers see you more like a friend rather than an entity that wants something from them.
2. Become a Storyteller
Though the term has been around for just about as long as advertising itself, “branded content” seems to be everywhere these days. Often, brands mistake the concept for an excuse to create nothing more than thinly veiled ads, doing far more promoting than helping, instructing, educating or entertaining, which totally defeats the point. True storytelling employs exactly the kind of user participation we just discussed, relying on readers to use their imaginations to fill in the details much as they would in a well-told novel or movie that focuses on the art at hand, not the auteur’s political agenda.
Telling a good story means doing more than pitching. Take a cue from Ikea’s Make a Room campaign. Start with a character with whom people can identify, give them a problem and some kind of conflict, and then have them embark on some kind of quest and resolution for their problem. Whether the character and adventure are directly related to what you do or, like the Ikea project, tangentially related, creating an engaging story like this as part of a wider, relevant, consistent and helpful campaign will not only establish expertise and trust with your consumers (which will go a long way towards humanizing your brand), it will spark sharing and engagement so your message spreads—no shoving anything down anyone’s throats necessary!
3. Engage in Real Dialogue—Without an Agenda
From comment boxes in restaurants to telephone computer systems that assure callers that their call is important to the business (yeah, right), it’s nothing new for a business to claim that they encourage real dialogue with their consumers. But in the social media age, where unresponsive brands can be slaughtered on Twitter, upping the game beyond clichés and platitudes is crucial.
First, brands need to create a safe and nurturing environment in which customers feel comfortable sharing. That means both inviting follower comments on social media and content platforms while also discouraging trolling and other negative behavior from inappropriate commenters. Pose real questions–not advertising with a question mark. Opt for, “Red shoes or blue: what does your color say about you?” or, “If you could add one feature to your dream sneaker, what would it be?” rather than, “When will YOU pick up your new shoes at 50% off (for a limited time only)?”
Use hashtags to monitor what people are saying about you so you can respond to both fans and critics alike. When you get complaints, respond as quickly as possible, and always with a positive, “customer is always right mentality.” Go back and forth for as long as it takes. These efforts will all be worth it as your customers come to trust and respect you even more.
4. Provide an Inside Glimpse Into Your Company
Never before have brands had access to so many tools to invite customers so deeply into their brands. Have your employees post video diaries of a day of work, or blogposts discussing recent events or developments in your industry. Host a Hangout on Google+, and post photos of your awesome break room on your site. With so many tools at your disposal, there’s no excuse for a consumer not having a good sense of what your brand is, who works at your company, and what you have to offer the world.
“Our blog is a perfect place for us to further humanize our brand. It’s great for people to see that there’s real folks behind every image in our collection, every ‘Fun Friday’ blog post, and every tweet.
We get to add our personality to just about everything we do. This past summer, we created a blog post that invited our audience to take a peek into our annual Hackathon, for instance. It’s just one way of bringing our social media community, which includes both customers and contributors, closer to the team, our culture, and our brand.” – Brian Masefield, social media editor at Bigstock.com
5. Have a Strategy
Last but not least, no matter what you do, it’s important that you create a clear branding strategy. Start by getting to know your audience, so you can keep your content relevant and useful (without knowing this, you’ll be more annoying than personable). Determine what kind of content you’re going to create and when, so you can always have timely material to share. And more than anything, stay consistent both with your overall messaging and with the kind of content you create. Consumers should have a clear sense of what they’ll get when they visit your blog, website or social media feeds, so they’re always getting a little something of what they want.
Now more than ever, it’s crucial that your brand be perceived as friendly and personable so that consumers develop a trusting relationship and engage at a deep level. Today’s tools present numerous unique opportunities for doing so, and just as many risks for not embracing these new mentalities. So dig in, and get going!
image credit: jlloydmorgan
Wait! Before you go…
Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:
- Daily — RSS Feed — Email — Twitter — Facebook — Linkedin Today
- Weekly — Email Newsletter — Free Magazine — Linkedin Group
Rob Toledo is Outreach Coordinator at Distilled, aka marketing coordinator with experience heavily focused online. Technologically driven, with a love for SEO, outreach, link building, content creation, conversion rate optimization, advertising, copywriting, graphic design, SEO, SEM, CRO, Google Analytics, social media, creative content…you get the picture. He blogs at stenton toledo