Crystalyn Stuart of 5Loom, a digital social and creative division of IMRE, is pairing up with tech ethicist David Ryan Polgar to introduce a new way to look at branding and technology – Humanizing Your Brand.
I got to speak with the duo about the innovative work they’re doing and why companies need to take a 21st century approach to marketing.
Natasha: Hi David and Crystalyn! Oooh – branding and tech. Two of my favorites. Talk to me about the concept of Humanizing Your Brand and what it means to you:
Crystalyn: Ideally, humanizing your brand is a rally cry for brand marketers to consider how they act in the digital space. While you might not be a human being, the way you behave in your digital channels, your customer service and social networks can assume human behaviors and should if you’re meant to build meaningful interactions and connections with your audience. We liken digital brand marketing to hosting a party, considering how you’d act, behave and network is a critical facet of successful digital marketing campaigns, and a place where brands with the best intentions fall down.
David: Humanizing your brand is a way to show that there is a beating heart behind the brand. As a consumer, it is easy to think of a brand as being almost automated in nature and without a soul. Some brands, however, have been able to interact with their audience in a way that conveys a sense of empathy, having personality, and being self-aware. A recent example of this was in the brilliant way that Apple was able to turn around a PR nightmare when Taylor Swift criticized them on Twitter. Their reaction, “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.”, implies a sense of empathy and awareness. In addition, they are signing off as a person, not a corporation.
Natasha: You pose an interesting question to companies, “is your brand datable?” What is the philosophy behind the idea and how can brands determine if they are?
Crystalyn: The concept of a dateable brand is derived from the notion of building relationships. If you and a brand were at a bar, what would compel you to connect with them and how would they show you they were interested? How might that brand build a long-lasting relationship versus an immediate interaction? Modern brands endeavor to build brand affinity, increase loyalty, grow frequency of connection and sales, to do that, we assert they need to be more magnetic and less of a bull horn. They need to be more dateable. Swipe right.
David: The Dateable Brand site was created as a creative exercise for brands to have a fun yet introspective discussion about their brand’s personality. It is a recognition that there are powerful emotional reasons with why we make purchasing decisions, and that oftentimes what trumps utility and cost is the deeper feelings we have towards a brand.
Purchasing a car is a prime example. We not only think of the car by it appearance, cost, and features, but its brand associations. Some cars lean Republican, some lean Democratic. When thinking about the car we are also thinking about the type of person who would be behind the wheel. In many ways we are picking out our car the same way we go about finding a significant other.
Let’s take Volkswagen. There is a clear association in my mind with their brand. They are youngish, hip, and use a Mac. We aren’t always looking at a car, but the brand personified.
Beer trends are also interesting to look at. The rise of Pabst Blue Ribbon took a formerly blue collar beer and attracted a hipster crowd. There is definitely a person who comes to mind when thinking of PBR.
Natasha: Crystalyn, with everything being so digitized and social, consumers are bombarded with thousands of messages per day? What makes a good brand stand out?
Crystalyn: A good brand is a great party host. It’s clear they contribute to the group, they care about having real conversations with guests, they tell brilliant, entertaining stories but make room for others to get involved. They respond in thoughtful, friendly ways, and they make sure everyone is having the best experience. They make themselves relevant but know who they are. When you apply this filter it’s easy to uncover the brands with natural magnetism—they’re the brands who people want to hang out with. They’re the brands that people consider a part of their life rather than a transaction.
Natasha: David, you and I have had the tech ethics talk on many occasions. Most of those conversations have revolved around our responsibilities as individuals when deciding on how we interact on online. This is an entirely different conversation. We’re talking about companies here. Does the logic and the responsibilities change slightly when we’re talking about companies and brands engaging online?
David: As we sometimes joke, but is nevertheless legally accurate, corporations are people. The fine balance for a company or brand is to act human online, while also being mindful of the significant damage that can happen by appearing insensitive or improper.
The same logic that applies to individuals interacting online works with brands: think before you post, showcase personality, and be cognizant of others. I have been really impressed with the work of Starbucks. Howard Schultz understands that people aren’t just buying a cup of coffee, they’re buying into a culture. Starbucks as a persona has some pretty bold characteristics and political leanings. While that is going to turn off some people, it does build a clear sense of who they are.
A major concern for brands interacting online is to not inject themselves into conversations where they are not welcome. A common issues happens when their as a meme or hot cultural topic making the way through social networks. It comes across as uncouth as a brand to try and directly use the event to sell whatever they represent. Don’t be that guy. The audience can smell a profiteering motive a mile away. The audience obviously understand that the brand is selling something, but a brand should be careful to know how to interact based on the situation. That’s being human. We adjust what we say based on a multitude of factors.
Natasha: How do you separate the real from the disingenuous? Now a days companies seem more focused on creating items that go viral rather than focusing on what they want to deliver to their customers. One of my favorite brands has always been Dove. They are magnificent about sparking meaningful conversations for women that, yes, ultimately go viral. How can companies stay away from passing fads and engage in a way that is true to their mission yet still cool?
Crystalyn: Finding the common thread between you and your consumer is what makes good human relationships. It’s also what makes a compelling brand. Dove listens to users and uncovers opportunities to celebrate what they have in common—a belief in raising women up to celebrate pure beauty. For fashion brands like Lord & Taylor (client), it means understanding the role the brand plays in support of a woman’s sense of self expression by curating and editing the right mix of styles alongside her. Finding a brand’s natural common thread is what makes for the best conversation—it can’t be forced and there is no proxy for real connection.
David: We developed the six elements of Humanized Branding as a way to consider the wide variety of factors that influence how a brand is perceived. As a consumer, I want to feel that the brand has my interests in mind. I want them to care about me. If I feel like I am being used in a unequal manner, I reject the brand.
For example, a lot of campaigns do a twist on: “Take a selfie with my product and use my hashtag!” Why should I? People want their relationships to be symbiotic, not one-sided.
Natasha: We are proud to provide a platform for female entrepreneurs. Crystalyn, what are some brands you love that do a great job at targeting women?
Crystalyn: We work with Johnson & Johnson at the corporate level and I’ve always admired their commitment to celebrating women as mothers, with a focus on total inclusion of all types of family. Raising the modern family with all our insecurities, our fears, our motherly instincts and boiling it down to love has always been such a powerfully uplifting and empowering message for women, for mothers and for all.
Natasha: If both of you could give one piece of advice to startups who are struggling with their marketing, what would it be?
Crystalyn: Choose one channel and throw the best party you can. A single, attentive channel strategy creates a better user experience and greater potential for a connection than several inauthentic and inactive channels.
David: Stand for something, and build a strong narrative. It is very exciting to live through the entrepreneurial renaissance that is going on now. On the downside, we are exposed to so many new companies each day. How do you stand out? The startups that stand out, in my mind, are the ones that create a compelling narrative that I can easily repeat to another person.
What some startups forget is that people have multiple reasons why they spread the message about a company. A lot of times our incentive in spreading a message is because we are trying to tell another person something exciting or helpful. You can’t spread a message if you can’t remember it.