14June

The increasing humanisation 
of brands & their impact on the
bottom line

Posted by - Whitestone International

‘Brand Pull’ is founded on a shift in emphasis from traditional push-marketing to a relationship driven approach through the brand”.

Brand Pull

“Brand Pull” is founded on a shift in emphasis from traditional push-marketing to a relationship driven approach through the brand.

As a theory it is not new to economists and strategists, but as a point of business principle and process, it is new ground. This article touches on the undercurrent of cultural economics, namely social capital, social currency and brand currency, as the basis for creating and strengthening demand through Brand Pull.

The increasing humanisation of brands – driven by changes in consumer demands and communications – is shifting and transforming how we build, nurture and manage them. The opportunity across online media to build more distinct relationships with audiences equates to “social capital” and enables audiences to evaluate a business based on numerous sources beyond traditional advertising and availability. This increasingly exposes businesses, their attitudes, behaviours and values, to widen the criteria on which one product is chosen over another.

Brands that invest in creating social capital are best placed to generate “social currency”. This currency is built through the personal and interpersonal transactional value individuals gain from an association with a brand – from aspects of their personal and social identity, to social interaction and their perceived or desired status and image.

But do we really form ‘relationships’ with brands? Relationships with intangible impersonal entities, that are managed and manipulated by businesses for profit?

The Brand Personified

The psychological, emotional and often behavioural dynamics we demonstrate towards brands are increasingly similar to those we demonstrate towards other humans. Why? Because a brand is a proxy, representation and personification of the people and culture behind a product or a service and with whom we identify, like and trust (or not). Ideological, philosophical and social alignment are as essential to nurturing strong relationships as the product itself.

Why this personification (via the brand) of the people and/or culture behind the product or service matters is in part because access to social media is broadcasting the previously hidden processes of management for all to see, and judge. It exposes the attitude of a business towards its consumers, which has a specific positive or negative impact on trust and reputation (the brand). Consequently, this impacts on the value of the business. And if not carefully managed can fuel a highly educated scepticism in consumers. Currently, the general state of the economy globally, post truth, fake news and expert failure in data security, amongst other things, is contributing to consumers being ever more vigilant about what they buy, from whom and why.

Further, making the relationships we have with brands even more real is today’s constant stream of open and direct communication. And it is fundamentally changing how businesses interact with people. Time and again we read articles that support what we see in politics, economics and society – that the fluidity and speed of digital and social media is the tipping point from previously opaque broadcast communications to personal communications and unavoidable immediate transparency. Consequently, brands are being forced to participate in an interactive role through which consumers form direct and meaningful relationships, positive, negative or indifferent. Expectations now are that brands should be available 24/7 to answer questions and concerns, and even engage in general conversation. Even more so, they’re being asked to advocate and solve global challenges on behalf of communities and cultures; as a justification of their brand value.

A Strategy for Brand Pull

Online engagement, immediate communications and interactive experiences are where the brand is delivered and validated; not where it is created.

Building Brand Pull starts with a deep and robust strategy that factors in the critical components of cultural economics and social transaction. In turn this provides a platform from which to deliver, amplify and/or evolve the brand. Establishing a charismatic balance between the functional and relational attributes of the brand is as important as balancing its purpose and relevance to both internal and external audiences and stakeholders. In other words, the brand must be built holistically, with its purpose, principles and appeal connected to the audiences’ personal, social and cultural identity – as well as the interpretation of wider cultural iconography. When shaping a strategy and ‘socialising’ that strategy through change management, branding, content, expression and experiences, a series of audience-focussed questions must be answered… What does the brand mean to a specific audience? What does it fulfil within them? What does it fulfil within their immediate and extended social circles? How is it credible within their communities (whether real or virtual)? How is it relevant to the outward expression of their culture?

As much as the brand should be audience focused, it isn’t just for marketing and advertising. It is and should be seen as equally valuable to the CEO, CFO, HR, staff and shareholders as it is to the CMO, brand managers and consumers. Therefore, when considering the impact of a brand, it must start from the centre before it can authentically reach out. Once owned internally, it can be traded externally to create brand currency.

Companies that follow this ethos are seeing the brand play an increasingly fundamental role in the business and therefore its impact on the bottom line. For instance, a consequence of a strong brand strategy is an improved focus of resources (and often therefore a reduction in the costs to market), as well as an ability to transcend time, borders and product categories.

Brand-shaped businesses continue to out-perform non brand-shaped businesses year on year, with the former providing added value and the latter battling a commodity positioning and status that is more exposed to the winds of economic change. Whilst functionality is commonly used as the starting point, culture, experience and emotional connections provide the basis for more robust and vibrant brands that inspire and engage. Being able to anticipate social and cultural shifts and reflect these through the brand creates opportunity for a more sustainable competitive advantage – and ultimately secures long-term revenues. When these elements are aligned, the brand can be relied on to represent the business’ people, products and services in such a way that it creates value in the brand beyond the product or service. In turn, this value draws people to the brand and creates demand – Brand Pull.

To be continued…