When you meet someone, you know whether there’s a connection. Shared experiences, interests, and values can quickly bond total strangers.
Brands aren’t people, of course, but branding is about humanizing a brand in a way that helps consumers connect with it.
Today, brand authenticity and trust top shoppers’ priority lists. Sixty-four percent say shared values influence their authentic brand relationships, and 63 percent prefer to buy from brands they perceive as honest.
Just look at Warby Parker. “We believe everyone has the right to see,” its slogan proclaims. By selling designer frames with a socially conscious and a frictionless customer experience, the scrappy eye wear brand found friends in an overpriced, impersonal market.
But authentic branding is about far more than a visionary slogan or eye-catching prices. It’s about selling a promise, an experience, an open hand — in other words, the rudiments to a relationship.
So how can your company show its personal side? How can it create authentic branding that “clicks” with customers old and new?
In life, you set interpersonal goals. Perhaps you want to know the boss better, or maybe you joined a gym hoping to build something beyond muscle.
Approach your brand the same way. Your North Star — or brand destination, goals, and aspirations — should be your product’s emotional niche. Don’t pick price or something equally emotionless. It should be something you can own and defend, and it has to be unique.
Do you want to be the hippest burger brand in the country? The coolest taxi service in Texas? The gentlest, kindest, and most honest dentist in town? Whatever it is, start with a specific vision and then think back to it in every decision you face.
A worthwhile North Star takes perseverance and sacrifice. Volvo’s is safety. Every mother of a teenager knows it, too, and not just because of Volvo’s ad copy. The Swedish carmaker has been crafting its image for over half a century, even giving away its most important invention, the three-point seatbelt, to save lives.
These days, people have an endless array of information and products to choose from. What they don’t have is endless time. Constantly being sold to has trained many consumers to tune out brands entirely, meaning that you’ve got a few seconds at best to create that point of rapport.
The perfect emotional hook will be different for every brand. But the bottom line is that customers won’t want what you’re selling until you connect meaningfully with them. What triggers, motivators, values, or interests does your product speak to? What purpose beyond profit does your company have?
Perhaps better than any other brand, Apple has mastered emotional communication. With its “no tech talk” approach, Apple doesn’t parrot processor speeds or resolution figures to its customers. Rather, it shows people enjoying Apple products in their everyday lives. No wonder America’s Apple households own an average of three Apple products.
When it entered the Malaysian market, Nescafé Dolce Gusto enlisted the help of a digital marketing agency and a social intelligence tool. It had hoped to increase local engagement, but it got much more than it’d bargained for. After three months, its Instagram engagements quadrupled, followers increased by five times, and brand mentions grew eight-fold.
Are you surprised that it succeeded simply by conversing with customers? Don’t be. We all want to feel heard and appreciated. And even if your customers aren’t talking with you, they’re talking about you. That’s why social listening tools are so powerful. They allow you to spot communications about your company on social media and respond in a timely manner.
What if you discover that your brand is being trashed online? Rather than lash out, see negative comments as opportunities to convert detractors into die-hard fans. Typically, customers will forgive a misstep — they’re human, too — but they’ll judge your brand based on its willingness to resolve the situation. Rest assured others are also watching how you react.
Ultimately, building customer relationships is just like building any other relationship in life. Self-aggrandizing or greedy behavior doesn’t make friends; it only drives people away. Talking down to people or just ignoring them won’t work, either.
The only solution, then, is to be a friend. Be clear about your intentions, generous with your time, and humble in your words, and you’ll soon be the authentic brand everyone wants to know.
Darshan Mehta is the founder and CEO of iResearch, an online insights platform that enables companies to quickly, easily, and affordably extract insights from consumers or employees worldwide. Drawing upon more than 20 years of marketing strategy and research design experience, Mehta is authoring a book, “Getting to Aha! Today’s Insights Are Tomorrow’s Facts,” to help business leaders understand and leverage changing consumer preferences.
In addition to his role at iResearch, Mehta is an adjunct professor at universities in Thailand, Sweden, France, and the U.S. Through the course of his work, Mehta has traveled to more than 80 countries and been recognized in publications such as Forbes, Inc., the Journal of Advertising Research, and Quirk's.