What does it mean to 'know' someone? Their name? What they do for a living? A shared interest? It doesn't take much to connect with someone and have a conversation via social platforms. I was at an event recently and tweeted my responses to some of the presentation material - another planner was doing the same and after some likes and retweets we followed each other on Twitter and are now ‘Linked In’. I haven't met her in the flesh but we are in the same industry, we know each other's names, roles and workplaces and have some notion of a shared ethos. There is a base level of understanding there that contains the seed of trust.
What does it take to feel that a brand knows you? Often they have just your contact details and a hint of interest (you were on their website so you must be interested). What's missing for many brands is the spark: conversations start when you have something in common. So how do you build that relatability into a simple communication with a specific purpose?
At RAPP we take an approach called Precision & Empathy. It's surprisingly hard to achieve. When clients are driven to hit a short-term target, it's easy to de-prioritise the human element of the communication, to make the message ever starker. But we are human beings: experts in de-coding and interpreting the tiniest of signals from others. And that includes brands, because brands are like people (the good ones anyway). There's an assumption that you can only afford to do brand communications if you have a big budget, but in truth, every communication is a brand communication. Door drops, letters, emails, social posts and texts are no less brand communications than TV or billboard ads.
The key to the empathy side of the equation (the side that marketers, oddly, struggle with the most) is harnessing emotion to deliver the resonance we need. Neuroscience has been telling us for years that emotion drives action. Emotion plays a leading role in everything we do, as recent experiments with people who've had illnesses affecting the parts of their brain governing emotion have proven. In a test of chance, featured in the documentary Secret Life of the Brain, involving winning or losing money, people with intact emotional responses relied on their 'gut feel' to steer away from riskier choices, and limiting their losses. The people with damaged brains chose random options and lost more money. This tells us that even the most rational responses are infused with emotion, and that appealing solely to the “rational actor” is doing only half of a communication job.
Getting to know someone takes time. It’s a long game with consumers very much in control: they decide whether to opt in, block ads or unsubscribe - so the first thing we need to do is establish that our intentions are honourable.
Some recent research run by the Future Foundation, using Net Promoter Score (NPS) and regression analysis, investigated the brand attributes that drive positive advocacy – and the top influences (apart from “value for money” and “best quality”, which we should take as read for all businesses) were “genuine”, “inspires me”, and “makes me feel good”.
These attributes are all emotional-led and ultimately relatable. So next time you have a communication to brief, think about how you can demonstrate authenticity and understanding, how you can inspire with originality, or make your audience feel better in that tiny moment they take to interact with you. There is value in these interactions, demonstrably more value than the conventional language of marketing with it’s assumptive “rewarding loyalty” and “exclusive promotional offers” (both of which were shown to drive a negative response by the Future Foundation research) – because they too easily translate as patronizing, hackneyed and disingenuous. Consumers have heard it all before: they’ve been promised rewards, exclusives and VIP treatment a thousand times, but few brands actually deliver and even those that do, struggle to achieve consistency.
Thinking about your audience the same way you would someone that you’d like to get to know, is a helpful mindset to cultivate. If you’ve got the right message for the right person, how can you couch it in terms that inspire them or make them feel better, in a way that opens the door to a deeper relationship? If every communication from your brand, regardless of its objective, can make the recipient feel better, feel that your brand is genuine or feel inspired by it, you will be on the right path. And, before you know it, you’ll be in a new relationship.
Jen Musgreave, Planning Partner.
This was featured on the Guardian online.