As a psychologist who has spent 25 years working in advertising agencies, I have constantly been worrying away at this issue.
I always looked at brands as people – a brand has its own set of strengths (and weaknesses) and has its own set of vales and a distinct personality. So extending this metaphor further, what can we learn from seeing how people connect with others – what makes for strong relationships vs. weak ones? Whilst I accept that a brand can never be like a real friend, there are still lessons we can apply to make your brand connect better than other brands do.
I have identified 5 things I think a brand needs to do:
1) Connect at a values/identity level – the people we are closest to are those who we share the same values and beliefs with – or one’s where we are both driven by the same goal/vision. So as Adam Morgan in Eat the big Fish describes, a brand needs to project out its values like a lighthouse, and that will attract people who share your same values (people often wear brands as a projection of their own identity). For me the critical issue is not to create the optimum list of values (or steal the values from your target audience) but really search hard for what the real values are – i.e. what really does drive the behaviour in an organisation.
2) Listen & respond – Great relationships are built on the power of understanding (and then responding). Only when you can see something from the other person’s perspective do they feel not only ‘heard’ but also acknowledged. Most brands just talk at the consumer. A brand that truly engages in dialogue will more likely connect with its consumers (They say we learn more through listening than through talking – maybe brands should do more of this?). Every brand should be setting up listening posts to track what people are saying about their brand. Critically, its not just ersatz listening – its taking information in and acting upon it – if one’s wife says how tired she feels and the husband replies ‘yeah’, that is not the same level of connection as when he gets up and makes her a cup of tea. So its only when a brand responds and demonstrates it has ‘heard’ you will that bond be stronger than other brands.
3) Respect – We like people who value us for who we are and not for what we can offer. At the start of any relationships, we put our lover onto a ‘pedestal’, only to start criticizing their every move 10 years down the line! If we truly value someone (for their inherent qualities) then we want to do things for that person – with no contract of reciprocation. Maybe if brands were to take an attitude of this, then people would feel that the brand is ‘really there’ for them.
4) Admit/accept one’s weaknesses – Its upon our frailties that we connect, not our strengths. The strongest people are those who have the courage to face up to their areas of weaknesses. Brands are flawed, and when a brand can admit its not superman, then we can more easily accept them into our lives –as we know there is a greater sense of authenticity about that brand than many others
5) Learn to say sorry – Think about your most important relationships. When you make a mistake, its best to admit it. Not that I am religious, but the bible talks about a key principle of forgiveness of one’s sins (they say its not the crime but the denial thereafter that is the killer). BP I think did as best as they could in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – they said sorry and took responsibility.