We all know how much we can learn about ourselves through the eyes and feedback of others. The same holds true for brands when seen through the eyes and exchanges happening between people. Conversations are going on every second about a brand – but the majority of these conversations are happening amongst people – not brand to people (see previous post Listen to Learn and Measure with Purpose). Whether topics are introduced by the media, influential voices or consumers, brands for the most part are either the outsiders listening-in or completely disconnected from such conversations.
Where does your brand sit within this social network ecosystem?
Some may say that you can’t really have a dialogue or social relationship with a brand since a brand is not a person. And although technically true, I do believe that great brands have the ability to transcend form and function so long as they have the ability to emotionally connect with people. The ways in which brands can establish these emotional connections are best summed up in the Ten Commandments of Emotional Branding, principles introduced over 10 years ago in Marc Gobé’s first book Emotional Branding. In order for brands to become emotionally engaging, the following mind and corporate cultural shifts will need to take place: The rise of social networks and the adoption of a more socially engaged corporate culture has enabled many brands not only to achieve all 10 Commandments but also to do so with great speed and unprecedented levels of transparency. The social marketing and engagement strategies for such brands vary from having a singular brand voice (e.g. Starbucks or Patagonia) to a multi-dimensional voice as reflected through a combined presence of brand ambassadors (e.g. Zappos or Google). From an emotional branding perspective, these brands have earned the recognition of being authentic and having integrity for the way they have actively and consistently communicated through words, actions and priorities. Collectively and singularly, these reflect who they are, what they believe in and their purpose for doing so. Achieving this level of brand evolution, self-awareness and clarity of identity is not an overnight process. Nor can it be achieved simply through market positioning, advertising campaigns, or by being manufactured on paper for launch into market. This is a process of exploration, awareness and self-actualization. It is a combination of action, vision and voice, or what has become fashionably termed within marketing as the new success benchmark of authenticity. I suggest going even one step beyond authenticity and recommend that brands strive to develop integrity. Integrity is a more meaningful quality and acknowledges proven and trusted ability not just recognition or common knowledge. Integrity requires knowing who you are and being honest in how you present yourself to others – not once or twice – but always. A brand should not bestow upon itself the attribute of either authenticity or integrity. Doing so would be like claiming your brand attribute as “value.” Per my second post of this series Why marketing needs to be re-branded, value is a subjective and consumer dependent concept. It can only be realized through a co-creation process between people and corporations. Neither authenticity nor integrity should be regarded as a badge of honor, reward, or rite of passage. Having staying power and a large marketing budget does not automatically earn a brand such recognition. Because even brands that do all the “right things” might be doing so for all the wrong reasons. In order to become a brand recognized for being authentic and acting with integrity, several characteristics must first be in place:
Characteristics of Brand Integrity
Depth – Ability to connect beyond the obvious levels of interest. Having the emotional strength and vulnerability to be “human” during moments of both highs and lows. Dimension – Ability to connect beyond what is expected, visible or understood. Introduce new levels of appreciation, inspiration or awareness. Pulse – Ability to come to life and connect with the energy of people, places and ideas. Feel what others feel regardless of having had first hand experience. Resonance – Ability to adjust, adapt and attune to varied perspectives, inputs, and actions in order to realize shared points of interest. Voice – Ability to communicate, respond, be heard and make an impact using varied modes of expression. The convergence of human interests is apparent when you look at social networks and the seamless transitions between topics that manifest organically. For example, comments in response to an advertising campaign can segue into mentions or links to posts regarding leadership ethics, customer service policies, sustainability, or supply chain human rights issues. One can see the multitude of topics that are trending on any given day regarding high profile brands such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Walmart, etc. These topics are often interrelated and reflect the different points of interest people have when trying to better understand a brand or make sense of its actions. Social network dialogue reveals the growing expectation people have for brands to become more “human” – not literally but figuratively. In fact, through our research and 20+ years of Emotional Branding, we have found that when it comes to brands, people will form perceptions in much the same way as they do when assessing people. Imagine you are at a party and begin talking to someone for the first time. Afterwards you stay in contact if not intentionally, then indirectly by way of news that you hear from common friends via Facebook or the next social gathering. Many of the questions, inquiries and social dynamics that people experience in getting to know one another mimic what is happening as people form opinions and decide how/if a brand will be part of their lives. As brands attempt to engage directly with people, more and more are realizing their identity shortcomings. It is impossible to continue a dialogue with a person if they insist on talking only about themselves – and engage in social discussion only on their terms. You cannot believe or rely on a person who has no sense of responsibility or history in choosing to do what is right, over what is expected. And you cannot build a relationship of shared interest into one of enduring love if you do not trust or know a person completely. The same holds true for brands. ______________________ Anneliza Humlen is the President and Founder of SocialVoice®. She is a brand strategist, development leader, culture-change catalyst and writer. She has dedicated over 15 yrs to helping businesses create meaningful brands through humanizing communication, culture-building and mentorship development of brand ambassadors. Contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org