More than ever, brands need to be people too

We have a favorite saying at FutureBrand - “a brand is what a brand does”. These expectations are shaped by brand actions - past, present and future, to build trust. 

Mutual trust creates opportunities to forge bolder, more powerful ventures together. However, trust takes time to build, nurture and evolve. That's why I take the trust granted to me very seriously - because to me, brands are people too. 

It therefore irks me that in this era of open engagement, elected politicians see fit to personally attack a brand’s right to express a point of view on a public issue especially when the subject of the attack is seemingly more in tune with the majority public sentiment.  That's why I applaud Qantas and CEO, Alan Joyce for "sticking to their knitting” and remaining true to their Spirit of Australia essence on the issue of marriage equality and for showing us what representational leadership looks like. 

Brands that activate our economy can choose to be activists

All brands aim to recruit like-minded people who share their values. So if brands are grown by companies made up of people, then it stands to reason that people shape brands. 

According to a recent global survey by Weber Shandwick, across 21 markets worldwide 86% of consumers surveyed believe they are a powerful force in influencing companies today. Furthermore, 91% of global executives agree. 

So let’s recap - consumers believe they can shape brands, and brands are ever more open to consumer ideas. What can be more healthy for growth opportunities than to activate the needs and desires of brands' most ardent followers?

Brands that position themselves as activists can reawaken brand latency, resurface their values, redefine their categories, and promote a compelling vision for their future. 

Brands that have a confident, validated understanding of the shared values that drive choice and preference within their user community have a strategic imperative to surface those values with greater salience. If remaining influential is the building block for brands to deliver sustainable market share, then harnessing that influence to champion causes on behalf of their community provides a compelling reason for people to remain loyal to brands. 

There's always a human side to branding

Brands are just familiar strangers until they start connecting with people on a truly human level - especially on issues that matter to their customers. That’s why strong brands imbibe themselves with human characteristics in order to create emotional connections and heart-felt, personal associations that can build communities. This connectedness is a bond that must be maintained. 

Relationships built on trust stem from shared understanding, values and expectations. It’s no coincidence that we use these terms when it comes to talking about brands. In fact brands are 'meta-human' as they are held to a higher standard than most individuals. Brands have a voice, they buy, pay bills and taxes, comply by rules, contribute, take criticism, have a point of view. They are resilient, occupy spaces and travel among us. Brands have a place and value in the world, just like citizens. 

Make no mistake, brands are also privileged to occupy an exclusive and powerful class of citizenship in the community, and so it should come as no surprise that people expect brands to uphold the values that they share with brand, or risk losing their support. All healthy, symbiotic exchanges work this way. 

Authenticity is the new currency for brand loyalty

Social media has shown brands that they need to continually earn and maintain the right to have a relationship with their audience. For this reason alone, the foundations that inform relationships must continue to apply to brands - consistency, honesty, openness, mutuality, understanding, listening and commitment. 

At this year's Pausefest, "empathy" was a main theme in many of the keynote speeches. The 2017 Superbowl ad breaks featured advertising by AudiGoogleBudweiser and Airbnb starring human stories promoting diversity, acceptance and equality over products and services. As leaders of their categories, these brands recognise that it's not enough to offer a product or service that people might want - you must stand for values your potential customers share. 

So, Mr Dutton and others in the Australian House of Representatives, you'd best be prepared for more brands to speak and act the way people behave, and to champion their beliefs with a much louder voice, commitment and velocity. 

As we see more personal data trusted to private enterprises like Facebook, Google and Microsoft, governments could take a lesson from what brands inherently know… to win the hearts and minds of people, they must listen to and act with people.

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