I recently conducted a series of depth interviews with creative professionals regarding a service brand they all use. At one point a rather vexed respondent remarked, “…and don’t bother sending email. It doesn’t work. I know with me, if they call me up, it might give me more reason to think about it.”
They went on to talk about how busy everyone is and how we’re all battling a digital blizzard. For them a personal phone call would have distinguished the signal from the noise.
If I extrapolate further, what I hear is not just a desire for the service provider to make it personal, but to be treated as one might expect to be treated in a relationship. For indeed that is what it is. Well, that is what it should be.
It reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with Ben Self, one of the architects of Obama’s 2008 presidential online campaign. Ben said the success of the micro-donation strategy was that, even though they were dealing with millions of people, they never forgot it was a relationship they were in with individuals. It seems this basic idea is largely lost on many brand managers, digital marketers and agencies.
Instead we get vexation. We get in-your-face, wall-to-wall noise, which is little more than one dimensional 30-60-90 second ads, masquerading as a contemporary social media engagement, created by 20th century one dimensional thinking.
For a reasonably current example look no further than KitKat, who recently recalibrated what vexatious means with the woeful ‘Breakers Party’ blitz that ran during the recent Australian election campaign. As if political campaigns were not punishment enough. Bring on ad blocking!
So how does a brand build genuine relationships with clients or customers? If you’re a low involvement consumer brand, like KitKat, you do have your work cut out for you but that doesn’t mean you have to torment consumers. It’s not impossible but it does mean starting with new thinking and a new model. Start by not trying to shoehorn the TV ad format into everything.
Most relationships start with small selfless gestures; a warm greeting, a genuine interest in the other. A small bond forms and some common ground is established.
The common ground can be expanded with further small meaningful gestures; letting the other know of something new that aligns with their interests; sending something that matches their sense of humour or that takes a twist on a topic that you know is of interest to them.
In a time when online status is hard currency, providing people with high-quality, shareable content is central to a valuable relationship.
There are numerous pathways from this point. However the objective remains the same; genuinely aligning your brand with customers in such a way that they recognise and respect your common interests.
If it can’t be email, and not everything can take the form of a quick personal phone call, what do you do? You become ubiquitous. Well, more correctly, for all intents and purposes, you become ubiquitous to your audience. And you do this simply by being associated with the things that are of interest to them.
In the past, Coca-Cola was the master of ubiquity. Coke was everywhere at the time people were thinking about food or refreshment. Today I’d say Red Bull has successfully updated Coke’s playbook. Red Bull is everywhere extreme sport is. I personally love the mountain bike stuff and I’m sort of glad I’ve never got an email from them.
In the digital environment Red Bull is not in your face. Yes, there are logos on helmets and vehicles, but there is a big distinction between the way Red Bull positions itself and the way KitKat does. KitKat is trying to make you buy something and Red Bull is not. More than anything Red Bull is – in the nicest possible way – just being the sugar daddy of extreme sports. And there has never been a better time for this particular type of sugar daddy.
Most importantly, the association Red Bull has with extreme sport produces an abundance of high-quality, entertaining, status affirming content. And, here is the bonus, the benefit of Red Bull’s association with these sports is compounded across countless social networks. I’ll bet hardly anyone has shared the Breakers Party content (in a nice way).
Closer to home and on a more modest budget, Allpress coffee does a great job associating with surfing, proving that it is possible to build genuine relationships in a way that works for all.
I guess the difficulty with the relationship approach is that it requires patience, since it is ultimately a relationship you want, and not just a hook up. But be patient. It won't happen overnight, but as Rachel Hunter knows so well, it will happen.