Breathing life into brands

Brand anthropomorphism: Attributing human characteristics or behaviour to a brand. 

Even in the days of yore when brand-consumer communication was a one –way street, marketers have thought a great deal about what kind of a personality should a brand project? And shoppers have imagined their favourite brands with unique personas. But this  has taken on new dimensions today when brands have their own Instagram signature and social media platforms with followers and commentators et al. Add in the X factor of Artificial Intelligence and anthropomorphic brands get to engage at a whole new level. 

While all of this should increase consumer intimacy with brands, brand owners must honestly answer whether a brand’s active presence on social media is becoming an easy substitute for tangible customer service? After all, brands engaging in dialogue through various social media is only a means to an end: not an end in itself. And for a consumer seeking attention to redress a complaint or to enhance the brand experience, a prompt ‘human’ response system is perhaps far more delightful than a gallery of enticing brand photos on Instagram. 

For instance, across categories and geographies, one hears too many anecdotes of consumer frustration at automated, Kafkaesque customer service systems. The challenge therefore is to create a world that balances a presence and personal voice on various media along with a system that enables consumers to painlessly access and influence the tangible workings of the brand.

Being sensitive to this simply means getting under the skin of the twenty-first century consumer, who on the one hand is delighted by Alexa’s services and yet craves for human connections. And hence the need of the hour is to find the sweet spot between using the power of social media to reach out to large numbers with apparently ‘personalised’ messages while ensuring that a responsive mechanism is in place so that the one consumer desperate to get her broadband working or get his unexpected experience while using the brand taken note of, is not left feeling frustrated by a byzantine feedback loop either on the website or on the phone. 

With the human tendency to anthropomorphise all our interactions, the damage that an unfavourable experience can do to brand equity is reason enough for brand owners to take this very seriously. And yet one is left wondering whether there is today, for many brands, a bit too much attention paid to curating the social media persona and not enough to the nitty-gritty of good old-fashioned service? 

The brand assets to be carefully designed and managed must include not just the product formulation, design and logos etc. but indeed all the systems and people who represent the brand at any consumer touch-point! And just as rigorous quality standards and design copyrights etc. are critical to maintain the brand integrity so too are enforcement of behaviour standards and value sets for all the people who are involved in getting the brand experience across to the market place.  

Finally, many of the trends we have been observing lately, be it personalisation or the shifting balance of power between brands and shoppers or transparency across a brand’s value chain, demand that a brand become truly accessible to the consumer. Not just visible, not just available but genuinely responsive to every consumer’s need to be heard and attended to. And so brand marketers have to not only design the brand personality as they want to project it but also ‘populate’ the brand with mechanisms that renders all distinctions between what the brand stands for and how the brand services its consumers superfluous.       

The author is a London-based brand strategist 

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