Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Human Brand

Branding.  It's like the holy grail for most marketers.  Creating an instantly recognizable brand is one of the primary objectives for the majority of marketers and organizations spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars to do so.  And yet, with all that effort and with all the products, companies and services available to the consumer, the number of insta-brands (or instantly recognizable brands) is quite small.
Of course, small businesses and non-profits just don't have the resources that major companies do when it comes to branding their organization, product or service.  But, as we've seen in this blog before, you don't need the massive resources of large companies to do something well and be effective.  You simply need a plan and a little know-how.

The Obstacles:

First, branding isn't just getting your name out to the masses.  It's about creating an image that is instantly recognizable.  You want folks to have an immediate connection to you when they hear your name, product or service.  This isn't just about having folks recognize your name, but about having them really connect with you.  Maybe you want your name associated with quality, reliability, new and hip, it's really up to you. 

The problem is, folks don't automatically relate to "things," they relate to people.  It's hard to relate to a plate of spaghetti or a sandwich or a car.  You can WANT those things, you can think those things are cool, or nice or desirable, but you can't really relate to them.  The same holds true for most organizations.  You can admire a business or what a non-profit is trying to accomplish, but at the end of the day, it's still a faceless organization, often a name without a personality.

And using social media to create meaningful, integrated relationships between a brand and consumers is simply harder than creating the same kind of relationship between people.  In essence, all of the social media networks out there were designed to connect people with people, not people with brands.

For instance, you own a small business or run a non-profit.  You're online as yourself, but also have pages for your organization.  On your personal pages, you most likely interact with your friends in a more casual, conversational manner.  Now think about how you interact on your organizational pages.  You most likely use those pages to simply announce specials, deals, make a plea for donations or let folks know about an event.  Unlike your personal profile where you're involved in conversations, these types of organizational postings are primarily one-sided.

This isn't how humans interact with other humans.  Even on sites like LinkedIn, where your interactions are more professional and formal, you're still often having a conversation, it's rarely just a one-way street.

The problem is, if you attempt to involve yourself in more casual conversations from your organizational pages, it may not be received very well by others in the group or conversation.  They'll probably look at it as an awkward intrusion by a company trying to sell something.

You can certainly build a network on your social media pages of people who "like" or are "fans" of your brand, but that still doesn't mean they want you involved in their personal conversations.  Plus, commenting on various personal posts can potentially damage the brand image you have worked so hard to build.

So does this mean you have to continue the one-way conversation rut that you're probably already in?  No, you don't.  You may never be able to get folks to view your brand as a warm, fuzzy friend that can converse in casual conversations at will.  But you CAN humanize your brand to the point where your network contacts feel comfortable interacting on a less-than-formal level.

The Solutions:

First, understand that we're talking about "humanizing" your brand.  In other words, you want to make your brand feel less than a faceless entity and more like a welcome friend that can be trusted and conversed with regularly.  At worst, you want them to feel like you're brand is a familiar acquaintance.

You can do this easily without breaking your bank. 

1.  Put a human face on your organization
2.  Be more interactive

There you go.  Simple, right?  Actually yes, and we'll show you how.

The Human Face:

Think about the 'O' Network.  Think about Virgin Records.  Think about Maytag.  What do all of these things have in common?  They each have a human face attached to their names.  Oprah Winfrey is literally a corporation unto herself.  She owns magazines, runs a TV network, makes movies and television shows.  And yet, she is, in the end, simply Oprah. 

Virgin Records IS Richard Branson.  He jet sets around the world, loves music, give generously to charity.  He's a playboy adventurer that exudes confidence and fun.  Oh, and he owns one of the largest music retail outlet chains in the world.  Virgin isn't just a music label anymore, it's virtually a way of life.  And that's because, as an organization, it's practically synonymous with Branson.

Both of those organizations have real-life individuals behind their brands.  In fact, those people ARE their brands.  They embody everything about their brands.  But what about characters, a fictitious face to an organization?  That's where Maytag comes in.  You know the guy.  The loveable loser repairman who has nothing to do because of the quality of his product.  Like Mr. Whipple, Mr. Peanut, Mr. Clean, Tony The Tiger, the Travelocity Elf, Charlie Tuna, the list goes on and on, The Maytag repairman doesn't really exist.  And yet, each of these characters have helped to create a brand that consumers love.  Perhaps the most famous of this type of branding belongs to one of the most successful companies in the world, McDonalds.  What would McDonalds be without the clown?  Just another burger joint?

This type of branding works because now you have a face to front for the organization.  Just like you should have a human face when pitching a story to a news outlet, having a character to represent your brand works.  It works because now consumers have something or someone, a person or character that they can relate to. 

One of the primary reasons this tactic works is due to a few important elements:
1.  The characters are relatable - They're funny, charming, frustrated, in love, pursuing a goal.  They represent many of the human hopes, strengths and frailties that people instantly connect with.

2.  They are personable - These characters don't preach, they don't yell or scream at the consumer, they simply talk.  This is important.  They interact with consumers.  Even in ads, you often see them interacting with regular consumers. 

3.  They stick around - Repetition matters.  Like radio and TV ads, quality is important, but quantity is vital.  You can't just toss out a character a few times and hope consumers catch on.  You have to use your character all the time, over a long period of time. 
Being Interactive:

This second part is perhaps the most important part of humanizing your brand.  We've discussed this in this space before, but it's so vital to your social media success, that it bears repeating.


There, that wasn't so hard, was it?  When you post, whether it be on LinkedIn, or Twitter or Facebook, don't just tell people about your specials, or your product or your service.  Ask questions, look for feedback, get your network involved in what you're doing.

An example of a brand that is using social media to successfully interact and build their brand is "TempurPedic".  This is where I say I'm not being paid by any organization mentioned in this posting...so you know.

TempurPedic is running ads that don't just tell the consumer how good their beds are.  In fact, the ads make very few claims at all.  Instead, they ask consumers to interact with their social media and online platforms.  The ads ask viewers to go to their website, check them out on Twitter and Facebook and find out what OTHERS are saying about their product. 

This is a brilliant approach.  Particularly since they actually use the phrase, "join the conversation" in the ad itself.  It's not asking them to log in and receive information, it's asking them to be PART of disseminating opinion and information.  It makes the consumer feel like they are an active part in building the brand.

I know what you're saying right now.  "But I don't have the money for a national television ad campaign."  I get it.  Who does?  But that doesn't mean you can't have a similar message in your postings.  You can encourage your network to participate in conversations.  Ask questions, solicit for advice, open a forum to discuss specific things.

Then there's the issue of video.  One of the best things about living in 2011 is that anyone, ANYONE, can shoot video, edit it and post it as a kind of ad for your brand.  You can use a character as part of these videos, you can have a call to action, you can open conversations with these "ads".

In fact, if you're NOT using video on your social media platforms yet, you need to start, immediately.  People like watching videos, they will share videos, all of which helps build your brand. 

When you do put your video together, here are a few things to remember:
1.  Keep them short - Anything over 30 seconds isn't likely to be shared or watched all the way through unless the video is REALLY good.

2.  They don't have to be funny - Funny is relative.  What's funny to you, might be offensive to others.  Simply consider your message and the best way to deliver your message.  You want the feel and image of your video to reflect and build on the image you are creating for your brand. 

3.  Have a call to action - At the end of the video, or during the video, make sure you let the consumer know what you want them to do.  If you want them to join a conversation, tell them.  If you want them to do something else, tell them.  Just watching a video will help raise awareness, but it doesn't necessarily get consumers to support your brand.
That Human Touch:

In the end, you want your social media network to not only like your brand, to feel affection for it, you want them to help you build your brand.  If your friends and fans can start relating to your brand on a human level, they will start to relate to your organization on a more personal level.

Eventually, you'll find that your network will begin to actively help build and humanize your brand through conversations with their own network and mentions of your brand as they might mention other friends they have. 

This doesn't happen overnight, but it DOES work.  Just make sure that the human face to your brand has a warm smile.  I mean, we may live in a technological era, but some things never change.

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