Harnessing social to build brands
How do brands build trust and happiness into their relationships with their customers?
- March 2012
- Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing, Stanford University
- Successful social brands put humanistic purpose at the center of their goals, build products quickly around stories (not the other way around), nurture optimism, and are guided by meaningfulness.
- Happiness can be a critical resource for companies, but is often not well understood. An important factor in driving happiness is having a meaningful goal, and feeling as if you are working toward that goal with others. The companies that cultivate such goals systematically, both for their employees and customers, have an advantage.
- Successful social media campaigns feature four activities:
- Focus: Identify a meaningful goal that embodies a clear, singular focus
- Grab attention: Make others look, often in personal but unexpected ways
- Engage: share a story and enable other stories to be told and shared
- Take action: provide tools and templates that enable others to act.
How to build successful social brands
Be human-centered. That’s not just empowering your employees but it’s also about speaking authentically. The trust gap between consumers and things in general is widening. Authenticity is critical in overcoming that gap and forming bonds of trust. It means investing in people and cultivating personality, and shifting away from a sole focus on technology.
“It’s the symmetry between ‘I understand the brand and the brand understands me,’ that can drive trust and ultimately behavior.”
Move nimbly. Social media moves and changes quickly, so brands need to focus on a portfolio of small initiatives that allow them to react and adapt at speed. The companies that often are best at this have highly functional relationships between the lawyers and the marketers.
Cultivate a culture of optimism. We know that positive emotions grow and spread. Happiness, for example, is not merely a function of personal experience, but also is a property of groups. Emotions are a collective phenomenon. Management approaches and habits that cultivate a culture of optimism are useful in motivating an organization at a deep level and can ultimately translate into marketing programs that connect with customers rather than just drive profits.
Build connections. Social media is founded on connections, and brands need to build that capability into their DNA. That’s where the idea of happiness comes in specifically. The meaning of happiness shifts over time but it eventually centers around feeling truly connected to the world, whether it’s the brands we interact with, or the people that are in our ecosystem.
Turn happiness into a resource
We often think of money and time as resources, but rarely do we think systematically about happiness as a resource. What actually drives our happiness, our employees’ happiness, or our customers’ happiness? To what degree can the answer to those questions be unleashed as a resource? Studies show that when people focus on a goal that is meaningful to them and are connected, they often end up feeling happier, work harder, and are sick less frequently.
“People like to buy, but don’t want to feel sold to.”
This idea of happiness is a powerful creative force. A small act, when grounded in something deeply meaningful, and repeated, can create big change. When you understand it this way, happiness is really an energy source for innovation and growth for your brand.
Four traits of successful social media campaigns
1. Set a single focused goal
Campaigns that take flight versus those that don’t have one surprising commonality among them: They all had a single focus goal with these characteristics: Actionable, testable, clear, humanistic and designed for happiness.
2. Grab attention
People will look when you speak in unexpected ways, are personal, and make them feel something. Personal pictures can help where you can see yourself in them. Visual components are important.
Successful campaigns engage by speaking authentically and making you feel personally connected to the campaign. Match the message to the medium. If stories are a key component of your campaign, then clearly video will be central to your campaign. Share your values in a way that is motivating. The human element is what draws people in.
4. Design for collaboration
If you identify a single focused goal, grab attention, share a story – and then provide tools and templates for others to act, that is when you get ideas to take flight. Know what the basics are for your engagement strategy. If you don’t give people something to do, they move on.
- Cultivating Admiration in Brands (2012), Aaker, Garbinsky, and Vohs, forthcoming in JCP Brands that are both warmth and competent – tend to evoke admiration (and trust).
- Non-Profits Are Seen as Warm and For-Profits as Competent (2010), Aaker, Vohs and Mogilner, JCR. We hold stereotypes about organizations. We think of non-profits as relatively warm but less competent, and for-profits as competent but less warm. Admiration and trust are difficult to cultivate when you are seen as warm or competent, but not both.
- The Time versus Money Effect (2009), Mogilner and Aaker, JCR. Encouraging individuals to think of how they spend time with (vs. money on) the brand helps foster connection. When people to think about how connected they are to things (e.g., brands, people), positive attitudes follow.
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