“We often make sense of other things by viewing them as people too.”
– Mark Turner
You’re smart. When you see something you don’t completely understand, you’re smart enough to fill in the blanks. Simple enough.
This has huge implications. Particularly for brands. Psychology & Marketing suggests that “unlike the product it represents to the consumer, a brand is in reality an abstract; a construct,” which means, brands fall in the “difficult to understand” category.
So what? So it means people understand brands like they understand other people. People form daily networks of friends, colleagues, and family around them. They also construct webs of brands they are loyal to in the same purposeful manner. You have your workout partners and your favorite running shoes. Your foodie friends and favorite restaurants. Your carpool buddies and your commute.
This leads to two important things:
Brands need to understand the daily lives of their consumers and show consumers their utility within those lives. How can brands enhance the lives of people by making the stuff they already do better, easier, more enjoyable.
Brands are reciprocal relationships. Susan Fournier and Max Blackston first established brands as relationship partners in the 90’s; but in a world of social media consumers speak directly to their brands and tell them what they want. And what they don’t want...
According to business magnate Richard Branson, “too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character, and no public trust.” We all love our friends as much for their imperfections as anything else.
Brand builders can push all messages they want, but in the end, brands exist in the minds of consumers. Modern consumers have a voice and want brands to be reactive and responsive to their demands, their lives and their values.
Wendy Clark, CEO of DDB Worldwide, was just featured in the Adweek Women’s Issue as one of 4 top women influencers creating a “culture of change” in media and comms. Clark says she will not rest until DDB “reflects the marketplace [it] serves.” To fit lives of the modern consumer, brands have to listen like people and act like the people they are understood to be.
Chief Creative of Los Angeles’ Kaster and Partners Brandon Rochon put it thusly: “I have always believed that people don’t invite brands into their houses. They invite people in. So for a brand to really be relevant and powerful and meaningful, we have to talk to them as a person.”
What does this look like in practice? Take Tim Ferriss and his podcast as an example. Once you have a person’s attention, you can no longer bombard them with random sales pitches or you will lose them. You have to sell them products that fit their lives and add value. Ferris explained that he turns down “millions” in potential sponsorship revenue (80% of advertisers that proposition him) for his podcast (which has over 70 Million downloads as of April 2016) in order to stay true to his audience and only advertize for products that add value to his customers in a recent post on LinkedIn. This is truly listening to the pull of the customers and letting that drive your strategy. And the numbers show it pays off.
Brands are no longer the sole drivers of brand significance.
Now consumers fit brands into their lives and form their own brandscapes, influenced by branding, but not singularly defined by branding. All exposures to a brand build a fuller picture in the minds of consumers. Ones you control, and ones you don’t.
Consumers build relationships to brands that are useful to them. They use brands that help build out and extend their personality. And that add real utility.
So where does your brand fit in this world? What does it say about the people that consume it?