For one day out of every year we are encouraged to make a romantic gesture to show our closest partners how much we care about them. Brands that want to succeed online through Social Media need to send a Valentine to their audience every day of the year.
For decades, the invocation of a brand’s identity manifested solely through one-way media such as catchy jingles and tantalising colour palettes. Monolithic billboard ads and clever commercials. But the social networking boom of the past few years has opened the lines of communication up in both directions as consumers now possess a level of influence that enables them to become a brand’s brightest champion or darkest nightmare, depending on the tone of their experiences.
Social Media is a platform for people to connect and share information and insight into everything that they care about. As such, it is the world’s fastest growing media empire and it is powered by personality. This should make it an easy leap for brands to make because, as Wally Ollins writes in his introduction to The Brand Book:
“A brand is simply an organisation, or a product, or a service with a personality.”
Why, then, are so few brands managing to succeed as personalities on the social web?
- My Boy Lollipop
It should be a no brainer; at the core of every brand there exists a set of core values that define the brand with a supporting ‘tone of voice’ that enables those values to be articulated through every message that the brand creates.
There is a very short list of brands that are consistently doing things right in the social spaces of the web. Equally, there aren’t a huge number of brands doing catastrophically bad. But the majority are just kind of drifting in the mediocrity of get-fans-quick schemes that usually involve the promise of an iPad in return for a like, retweet or pin.
Campaigns like these have been, and continue to be, ten-a-penny and are as effective as somebody going around the room in your local pub handing out free lollipops to people who’ll shout ‘I LIKE LOLLIPOPS’ to get theirs. It’s simple: people like getting free lollipops and they don’t mind jumping through the odd hoop to get one, just so long as the hoop is near to the ground and that there aren’t many of them.
But this isn’t consumer engagement and it does not inspire brand loyalty.
- You Give Love a Bad Name
The fundamental flaw here is the active perception of Social Media in the minds of brand managers. They’re approaching it, not unsurprisingly, as simply another advertising space which, as we all know, it very much is not. It’s a conversational space.
It’s where people go to catch up with friends and make new friends. It’s where they check-in to celebrity-spot and share photos of cats. It’s where people go to be people, when the everyday world gets a bit too humdrum for them, so It’s not a place where they’re going to respond particularly well to advertising, in the traditional sense.
- Can’t Buy Me Love
The missing piece of the puzzle is in fact not missing at all, but it’s a word that has been overused so much in recent years you may have to brace yourself:
There. See? All but meaningless. Brands that want to win the hearts and minds on the social web have to engage their audience’s interests. But in the kick and scramble to prove ROI on Social Media spend, the meaningful art of conversation has been supplanted by screams of HOW DOES THIS MAKE US MONEY???
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the question, but it’s simply drowning out the answers.
Brands are too busy doing what they do to talk about what they do, which is why they hire branding agencies, like the one I work for, to help them define who they are and advertising agencies to help them sell their wares.
So if brands want to make a real impact on the social web, in terms of being able to leverage consumer interest to match their business aims, there is an argument for putting talented writers at the interface between the brand and its target consumer. Writers who can articulate the personality of the brand, in the voice of the brand and in real-time, and by doing so cultivate a community of doting, devoted brand advocates.
- Love Letters Straight From Your Heart
To illuminate my point I would point you towards one of dramatic literature’s greatest love-makers: Cyrano de Bergerac.
You may have seen the film with Gerard Depardieu as Cyrano? Or the modernised remake starring Steve Martin as Steve Martin?
It doesn’t matter, this is what the play is about:
Christian is a young nobleman who is in love with, and loved by, the beautiful Roxane. Roxane has a real thing for guys who are good with words but Christian gets his quiver in a knot whenever he puts pen to paper.
This is where Cyrano steps in.
Cyrano is a lover and a poet and is able to write to Roxane on Christian’s behalf, supplying him with potent words of wooing, pitched perfectly to Roxane’s delicate sensibilities. He is even able to step in and speak for Christian, under cover of night, when Christian is caught off-guard by Roxane from a balcony.
To wrap up the analogy; Christian is ‘Your Brand’, Roxane is ‘Your Target Consumer’ and Cyrano is ‘Your Content Creator’ – the person who writes fluently as, and on behalf of the brand at all times and is, able to articulate on-brand responses in real-time with a human voice, so that when your target audience calls, they’re there to answer.
Apple clearly thinks it’s important as they’re looking to hire a writer for Siri, the iPhone’s virtual assistant, who “combines a love for language, wordplay, and conversation with demonstrated experience in bringing creative content to life within an intense technical environment”.
Apple knows that people share their Siri stories through social media and a good story about the brand is a good story for the brand, so they’re doing the smart thing and putting a good storyteller behind the wheel.
- Love Me Or Leave Me
Consumers already know that brands just want them to buy into whatever it is that they’re selling, but they just want to feel that they matter as much to the brand as the brand does to them.
Brands don’t need to keep asking for ‘likes’, they need more Cyrano’s: capable writers who have the agility and creativity to respond in realtime and bring what’s likeable about the brand to life.
Once this starts to happen on a wider scale, the relationship status between brands and consumers will start to change from ‘it’s complicated’ to happily ‘engaged’.