As a Millennial, I don’t spend a lot of time actively thinking about brands. In fact, I’m pretty oblivious. They’re just there; a logo slapped on the stuff I want. I have some favorites (hello, Kate Spade) but I’m not loyal to many.
With the wonders of the internet at my fingertips, the world is small and I have a LOT of alternatives to consider when making a purchasing decision. And I’m pretty typical of consumers these days.
So how can a brand marketer stand out and capture my attention?
The challenge for marketers is to engage with me in a conversation as a person, rather than a company. Brands with unique qualities that make them seem confident, authoritative, empathetic, efficient are more likely to cut through the noise and make me pay attention.
What makes a brand “human?�?
I obviously don’t view corporations as people, but some do possess qualities that give them more personality than others. When brands have these, I find myself more willing to have a “relationship�? with them. This translates into repeat purchases for the brand.
Why do I feel like Kate Spade’s brand is authentic, cool, and friendly while other brands (like Gap) seem more artificial to me?
Researchers Malone and Fiske evaluated over 45 companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Hershey's, Domino's, Lululemon, Zappos, Amazon, Chobani, and Sprint. They boiled the difference between the Kate Spades and the Gaps down to just two qualities: warmth and competence.
Having only one of these qualities is problematic. Think of people you know, for example. Everyone has that friend that’s loveable but not competent; they need to be taken care of and they don’t inspire confidence.
Now think of a person that is competent, but not nice. They’re good to have in your network, but not friend material. Competence without warmth doesn’t engender trust; if anything, it makes us feel suspicious and wary.
Just one of these vital qualities fails to spark a connection. And personalities that are both incompetent and not nice breed resentment (this is why banks, cable companies, and oil companies are among the most disliked brands).
On the flip side, people (and brands!) that strike the right balance of genuine friendliness and capability engender loyalty, affection, and even forgiveness. To continuously grow your business by building a brand following, you want to be one of those companies.
Developing a likable brand
Well, this makes sense, but how do brands develop customer perceptions of competence and warmth?
First, listen to what customers want you to be. You can’t be all things to all people. But you do need to be the right things to the right people, and this requires a deep understanding of what’s important to your customers.
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If your customer were to describe your brand as a person, what would they say? Quirky (Trader Joes)? Efficient (Amazon)? Snarky (Old Spice)? Encouraging (Dove)?
If you want your brand to be personable and liked, your brand attributes need to align with your customers’ priorities and your capabilities. That’s how you develop an authentic presence of warmth and competence.
What would your customers say about your brand? How do customers experience your brand’s personality? Is your brand competent and friendly?
This is the linchpin to brand success. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what brands think of themselves. It’s the customer perception, and their ensuing choices, that determines success.
A common Vennli customer growth case is to test their value proposition or brand perception in the market. For example, how does a certain customer segment perceive your brand vs. competing brands on the factors that matter most to them?
But what’s often eye-opening is the difference between the perception of the employees within the company and the actual perception of its customers.
For example, an internal view may look like this, with lots of choice factors falling into the company’s green zone, which represents its competitive advantage. This means that the employees think the brand is doing great! “We rock!�?
However, very frequently, the customer view looks quite a bit different. Many of the choice factors may be undifferentiated between you and your competitor… or even be perceived as unmet needs (i.e. NEITHER you nor your competitor are perceived as doing a good job). Ouch!
Create a human brand by understanding your customers as humans
The point here is that your brand personality needs to resonate with your target customer... and the only way to do that is to get to know your customer and ask some targeted questions about how they perceive you.
This can be intimidating, but look on the bright side - it’s difficult for your competitors, too! Those who understands their customer the best will win the customer’s choice. This is what distinguishes brands with great personalities and high customer engagement. And just like friendship, it’s worth the work.
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