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I’ll Be Your Mirror

Reflecting and connecting with your audience

Interbrand | Pg. a

Interbrand | Pg. 1

I’ll Be Your Mirror

Reflecting and connecting with your audience

by Nora Geiss

“I use this channel to...”

People like to see themselves reflected in the world around them. It’s why we choose friends who share our sense of fun. It’s why we seek careers that feed our interests, and align ourselves with causes that represent our values. We want to feel connected to the world. This desire for connection is no less powerful when it comes to brands. The brands we choose – especially those we keep coming back to, that we talk about in professional circles, and that we recommend to our friends and family – resonate in an important way with who we are and what we hold dear.

Brand personality ... is arguably becoming the most important brand element From “I want” to “I am” Of course this need to make an internal association with the values of your audience is a fundamental tenet of branding. But in recent years, in large part due to the expansion of the internet, the explosion of mobile apps, and the broad impact social media has had on the relationship between brands and their audiences, the value of developing internal association with the audience has grown. As opportunities for dynamic dialogue between business and consumer have multiplied exponentially,

Keep up with friends and family

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See, try & buy

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I’ll Be Your Mirror: Reflecting and connecting with your audience

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The organizations that are reaching people are responding to a subtle but powerful shift in people’s decision making: from “I want” to “I am.”

organizations are pushing to find ways to engage and elevate their associative value. Brands that get it right go beyond appealing to material needs; they transcend the superficial back-and-forth to engage with audiences not just around what people seek in a material sense, but on a deeper and more personal level. Simply put, individuals are now more empowered in the marketplace. And the organizations that are reaching people are responding to a subtle but powerful shift in people’s decision making: from “I want” to “I am.” The “I am” mentality means that decision making isn’t just about purchase anymore. It’s also about the choices individuals make to incorporate a brand into their online profiles, as a way to bring more personal depth and dimension to their public personas. It’s about the fact that which brands you follow on Twitter says as much about you as who follows you. It’s about the decision individuals make to include certain brands in happy-hour small talk – to drive home a point, or to show off a particular sense of personal style. It’s about the choice individuals make to drive the extra three miles from one store to another, because the first “doesn’t have my brand.” Clearly, the rise of the “I am” mentality complicates the media landscape that brands navigate today. It requires branding professionals to know a lot more about how their audience makes associations, where they are making these associations, and why. It requires that we think not just about

individual channels, but about in what way they intersect, and the relative value each channel adds to the overarching experience we want to craft for our audience.

To understand the greater narrative of your target audience, context is the key Building a connection to the “I am” mentality is necessary to keep brands relevant, valuable, and alive in an age of dynamic media. It opens up significant opportunities to align closely with passionate people who will engage, co-create for greater value, and spread your brand message with the influence of peer-to-peer authenticity. But building that connection also demands – more than ever – that branding professionals know “who” their brand is, so they can more credibly flex its personality across multiple touchpoints. This represents a significant investment and requires a willingness to embrace complexity. Developing and expressing brand personality is undeniably an art form, and can be the most difficult part of brand development, for a variety of reasons. First, it can be challenging to demonstrate its value to corporate leadership, yet it can’t be executed without understanding, buy-in, and allocation of resources. Second, the development of a brand personality requires strong internal engagement, but internal culture is the hardest thing to change.

And yet, while the creation of a successful brand personality is a huge challenge for any brand, it is arguably becoming the most important brand element. It is what unifies expression, enables cross-channel engagement, and ultimately sparks the association of “I am.” So how do you ensure you are making the most of your investment, and seizing the opportunities? Finding the right narrative thread in the noise of the net “To be successful,” Alex Bogusky and John Winsor write in their book Baked In, “a brand’s story must connect with a larger conversation that’s happening in the culture.” They rightly point out that people connect best with brands that communicate through storytelling – people relate to a story that specifically resonates with the human experience, and is relevant to the way people touch the brand. The trick is tapping into the cultural narrative of the audience you want to reach in order to tell the right story. The complexity of the media landscape can make this difficult for brand managers and communicators. It raises questions like “What behaviors should I look at?” “What conversations should I listen to?” “What metrics should I measure?” In truth, it takes a holistic view to connect the dots between a back-and-forth Twitter conversation, a spike in traffic to

I’ll Be Your Mirror: Reflecting and connecting with your audience

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Reflecting the needs and desires of the audience does not mean falsely inhabiting their lingo and shrugging into their trendy dress code.

your website, and someone cashing in a Foursquare deal on-site. To understand the greater narrative of your target audience, context is the key: grasping not only what people are talking about, but why; knowing not only where people are coming from, but where they’re going; seeing the contrast between what people like, and what they dislike. In other words, seeing the forest and the trees. Interbrand’s approach to this conundrum is called Brand Playback. Brand Playback offers a way to find out what interests and engages your audience, and enables brands to craft messages and platforms that “play it back” to them, putting your audience at the center of the experience you create. More specifically, it allows brands to: •

Listen to the high-level themes of conversation to find out what an audience connects to emotionally and functionally.

Look at the behaviors that show what motivates people to engage and build association.

Take action to seize the right opportunities – and consistently measure your actions against audience reactions, so you can optimize your connection to them over time.

Unlike just another analytics tool, Brand Playback is a holistic solution – a way of looking at and understanding the profound conversations and behaviors of a brand’s audience, and using a consultative analysis to shape how the brand can respond to deliver greater value. Brand Playback helps you to... Listen Conversation tells us what topics have momentum – what captures attention, what captures the imagination; what we want to share and what we want our community to react to. To find the true thread of conversation, you have to look at what people are saying across channels, wherever genuine, candid conversation can be had: social networks like Facebook, social microblogs like Twitter, across the blogosphere, in forums, and chat rooms. When it comes to these channels, context is the key to finding the right themes. For example, listening for conversation about “breakfast” reveals a strong theme around the emotional value of “quality time.” A search for “General Mills” and “breakfast” reveals lots of talk among moms sharing cereal coupons and money-saving strategies. By listening for how people talk about your brand in the context of how your product actually fits within their lives, you can learn what people really care about, and find the right balance of emotional and functional messages to deliver at which key points along the customer journey.

The focus is on quality, not just quantity, here. While it’s important to know how much volume of functional conversation you might have to balance with emotional messaging, don’t assume that you can only tap into the functional to be successful – a mistake many brands make. Conversation around the Quaker brand may be relatively low in comparison to competitors, but the conversation almost always circles around quality-driven attributes such as “delicious,” “healthy,” and “life-saving convenience.” That’s powerful stuff. Quantity can be addressed, but quality is much harder to achieve and deserves more attention. Look Behavior shows us how key themes of conversations take root to motivate engagement, and how the narrative plays out in our everyday actions. This is where the spark of association can be seen, indicating potential for building a long-termvalue relationship. For brands, this means it is important to reward associative behaviors to show that you are paying attention and willing to engage. One brand that does this well is VitaminWater, which makes a tremendous effort to engage its audience in the creation of every part of its products, as evidenced by its co-creation of the Connect flavor with its Facebook fans. The flavor, the name, and the design were all up for grabs – and the design

I’ll Be Your Mirror: Reflecting and connecting with your audience

was rewarded with a US $5,000 prize. This indicates a significant amount of trust and commitment between brand and audience, and builds a quality experience that goes beyond just a product. Think about the associative behaviors you want to encourage when it comes to your brand – is it a Facebook “Like” that grants your brand badge status on an individual’s page? Is it a Foursquare check-in that broadcasts an individual’s association with your brand to their personal network? Is it a comment on your blog that builds value for your community through collective thought leadership? How do these behaviors resonate with the core idea of your brand? By creating meaningful ways to reward these behaviors, you begin to participate in a natural dialogue with shared value. Take Action Opportunities become clear when we see alignment between genuine conversations and behaviors happening among the people we want to reach and the core values and attributes we want to stand for. When you know what your audience cares about, where they spend their time, and how they demonstrate association, you can step back and examine what defines your brand at its core. You can also figure out how to bridge the gap between what your audience talks about and where you naturally intersect with that conversation. Look at your brand messages. Do they speak to the interests your audience voices in their online conversation? Listen to your brand voice. Does it use the language that fits with how your audience speaks? Do you sound like one of them? Review your brand touchpoints. Do you have a presence where

your audience spends time? Are you there to help them when it comes to making decisions related to your product category? Keep in mind that it’s not always all about you. IBM made a smart move by taking “Smarter Planet” to Tumblr and using the community blog platform to curate conversations about the people, technology, processes, and policies that make for a Smarter Planet. It recognized that its current audience, such as engineers, already had a strong reason to spend time with IBM in its forums, but reaching new thoughtleaders on the subject required it to branch out beyond its own website. Mom said it best “Always be yourself.” Go ahead: Indulge in that eye-roll. But it can’t be said enough that knowing what it means to “be yourself ” as a brand is critical to success in the age of dynamic dialogue. Going through a robust process like this can be an uncomfortable process of self-discovery – it’s extremely revealing of a brand’s strengths and weaknesses; it shows us where we meet expectations, but it also calls out where we fail. It can inspire a very real temptation to try to address the most immediate noise, or to conform to the demands of our loudest audience. However, reflecting the needs and desires of the audience does not mean falsely inhabiting their lingo and shrugging into their trendy dress code. It means that we hear and understand what people want – and find the most authentic way to connect with them through our own way of being. So listen, observe, and find the opportunities to build a deeper connection with your audience – in the ways that truly reflect the essence of your brand. ■

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Starbucks: Reconnecting with its core audience to regain its footing Starbucks, despite the difficult self rediscovery work it has undertaken over the past couple of years, is a shining example of getting it right. The very fact that it recognized the need to do this shows that it was listening; and the actions it took to correct for what it heard has paid off in a customer base even more fiercely loyal, more engaged, and more personally connected to the brand than ever before. Its success hits on every point of the key steps outlined above. Listening to conversation around Starbucks today shows that its increased focus on customization and personalization is paying off in genuine positive traction for the brand.

And by listening, observing, and taking action to transform the brand around the needs and desires of its audience, Starbucks has rebounded from a disconnect with its core audience —compounded by a difficult recession — to regain its footing and maintain its premium price point.

The platforms Starbucks created engage people where they want to be heard and deliver on that engagement with a meaningful response. Overall, by listening, observing, and taking action to transform the brand around the needs and desires of its audience, Starbucks has rebounded...it created engage people where they want to be heard and deliver on that engagement with a meaningful response.

Most importantly, individual association to Starbucks is among the highest a brand can achieve, holding strong as the brand with the most Facebook fans in the world. That goes to show what you can achieve – and overcome – when you focus on building your brand with the people you serve at the center of the experience.

Nora Geiss Nora Geiss is a creative strategist, digital specialist, innovator, and super nerd. She was born with a passion for logic and language, and leverages a background in public relations, marketing and creative writing to develop distinct verbal assets for brands across a variety of categories. She is a certified ideation facilitator, and develops creative techniques that make the most of both client and internal brainstorming sessions. As an associate director for Interbrand's Verbal Identity department, she has created brand strategies, names, messaging, brand voice, and engagement strategies for great brands across a broad range of industries, including AT&T, Feeding America, NCR, Frito-Lay, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She is the co-founder and head of the Brand Playback practice, helping brands close the gap between what their audience wants and what they deliver.

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I'll be your mirror