6 Principles for Brands Being Social
This week I wanted to share with you 6 foundational principles for brands behaving socially. I’m not going to talk about social media platforms here. This is about how brands should behave if they want to really be part of their customer’s lives and conversations.
1. People, not your product, are the brand heroes
Have you ever heard a brand manager or designer talking about “hero” products or “hero” features? This is marketing hooey and you shouldn’t buy it. When it comes to connecting meaningfully with customers’ lives, products are considerably less important that the people and human stories around them. Sometimes the heroes might be the makers of the product, more often it’s the users, but either way, sociable brands transform the way their customers think, not about products, but about themselves.
- Enable and celebrate your customers doing awesome stuff
- Don’t wait for them to come to you. Go to them! Make them feel important!
- If they’re your best customers, show some gratitude
- If the story is about your makers, show your customers the difference they make in these makers’ lives
2. Do something so you have a story to tell
Most people who grew up with the internet are averse to “messaging”. Unless your brand has the behaviour to back it up, don’t make up stories and think they’ll resonate. The question “What are you going to do that’s worth talking about?” should be on every single communications brief.
- Go do (or have people go do) something in which your product/service has a role. Sponsorship and involvement in events is one way to do this, as Apidura has done with the Transcontinental Bike Race.
- Capture it in a compelling, share-worthy way. This might mean working with someone who is a great storyteller/filmmaker/artist etc. The people who do the doing might be interesting and noteworthy on their own.
3. Treat your products as a souvenir of a story
A bit like the mice in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “protrusions into our dimension”, your product is just a small tangible bit of the brand you can see and touch and interact with. The story is so much bigger than that. When you go on holiday, the keepsakes and tokens you bring back with you are reminders of your adventure. Every product out there should be treated in this way, proof of something bigger and more meaningful than the product is on its own.
- Identify a story your brand wants (and has cultural permission) to share. This story will tell people a lot about your company’s values, people, and view on the world.
- Design your product with specific elements or qualities that bring that story to life. This might be in patterns or colours, the fabrication, the details, the packaging, the copywriting on your label, etc. It might even be a literal story brought to life through a product as American Girl Doll has done.
4. Bring your community together better
How easy is it for people to talk about your brand, products and services? Do they know the type of words that would sound right? How easy is it for people to take distinctive photos of your product so they can demonstrate their sense of tribal belonging? What about online? Or at physical events? When people feel a sense of belonging they are far more likely to be both passionate and loyal toward your brand.
- Using ambassadors and visual storytelling, set a precedent for how customers should capture images and videos of your product/experience.
- If you want to have a social media #, make it something people would actually use, and refrain from including your brand name in it. Their conversation is more important than your brand’s ability to “own it”.
- Make your product photogenic and recognisable - as Rapha’s founders often said, “from 5mm to 50m people should be able to recognise the product as Rapha”.
- Create surprising opportunities for people to come together around the activity/cause they’re passionate about in which your brand/product plays a role.
5. Embrace Openness
Open to change, open-source, open-mic… giving your customers a role in your brand is vital. Thrive through feedback. Embrace collaboration and encourage customers’ creative personalisation of your product. If you notice your customers or fans taking initiative to do something interesting with your brand, don’t push back. The best TV shows have learned to embrace the fan fictions flourishing on Twitter. The most interesting companies understand when and where their products can be a canvas for creativity, like Away has.
- Don’t be precious about the look/function of your product if your customer has creatively deconstructed, hacked or personalised their purchase. In fact, celebrate and share it!
- Treat customer service not as a place for handling complaints, but the epicentre for learning and feedback loops in your business. Make sure customer service people have easy and regular access to your design team.
- Make stuff that is intentionally unfinished as an opportunity for customer personalisation. Stickers are an easy way to do this in a playful yet branded way.
6. Align your brand with a bigger social cause
91% of Millennials will go out of their way to buy from brands associated with social causes they care about. This may sound high, but the figure is also 85% for the rest of the population.
- Identify a natural connection with a cause based on a truth about your brand, product, founder, or location. Dawn soap was used in oil spill clean-ups for many years before the brand realised it was worth promoting.
- Put your money where your mouth is. Don’t just talk, do something. When Patagonia gave all its $10M sales revenues on Black Friday 2016 to environmental causes, they took a hit, but generated far more value in awareness, new customer sales not to mention loyalty and pride from existing ones.
If you’d like to learn more into this territory, you should check out the following books:
- Tribes by Seth Godin — How people seek out connection
- Do Purpose by David Hieatt — How the most important brands in the world make us feel something
- Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard — The story of how Patagonia came to be what it is today