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Friday, 1st February, 2013 | By Andy Beth Miller | Category: Public Relations and Social Media

Your Brand: A Love Story

love-story-article

There are people who use a phone, and there are people who carry their phone like a badge of honor. There are people who drink coffee, and there are people whose coffee cup is an extension of their self. There are people who drive a car to get from point A to point B, and there are people for whom their hood ornament is crest they’re proud to bear.

What’s the difference? It all comes down to love.

The love story between the world’s most popular brands and their customers starts just like any other: it’s a story of people coming together over shared passions.

You see, today’s social media era has stripped away the barriers that once separated companies from their customers. Whereas yesterday’s traditional media outlets maintained tyrannical control over the flow of information and ideas, social media has paved the way for a genuine exchange of two-way communication.

In this new paradigm, the public has no affection for the face of corporate America. Instead, today’s customers expect the companies they do business with to be human and to exhibit all of the qualities inherent in human relationships – transparency, respect, conscientiousness, kindness, trust, generosity and the like.

As a result, to succeed in this brave new world of business, you must stop relating to your customers as a company and start relating to them on a human level.

Here are four key principals to humanize your company and build a brand your customers will fall in love with:

Open the dialog.

Social media is your means to bridge the gap between the market and the masses. But of course, it’s not enough just to be present on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. You must be an active participant in the communities where your tribe lives, and you must mold your participation in ways that humanize your brand and break through the barriers to gaining trust.

You must put as much effort into listening and responding as you do into putting your own content out into the world. You must prove that you serve at the pleasure of your customers, not the other way around.

For example, on Twitter, it’s a good idea to allow trusted employees to have individual accounts that they can use to respond to customers on the company’s behalf, as opposed to maintaining a singular universal company brand account without a name or face attached to it.

Also, consider hosting chats, forums or webinar sessions where customers and colleagues in the industry can log in and connect with your company in real time, creating an environment of open communication and fostering feelings of trust and likability.

Commit and admit.

Nothing earns trust in human relationships more than sincerity and the willingness to admit when you’re wrong.

The relationship between your company and its customers is no different. To survive in today’s 24/7 world of accessibility and accountability, you must commit to 100 percent transparency.

That pledge is easy to uphold when times are good. When you’re proud of the things you and your employees are doing, it’s a pleasure to speak openly about them.

But you also must be willing to publicly accept responsibility when you fall short, make a mistake or fail to satisfy a customer. More importantly, you must take the initiative to make concrete changes that will set you apart from competitors that are content to languish in the status quo of corporatism.

Starbucks is a shining example of this customer-centered commitment to transparency. Whenever a customer is displeased, no matter the reason, they are either given a gift certificate for their next visit or their order is remade on the spot with no questions asked. By adopting this policy of open communication, Starbucks has created a strong sense of community and respect where customers feel their voices are heard and their business is appreciated – and, in turn, they reward the company with their undying loyalty and evangelism.

Pull back the curtain.

When it comes to relating to customers, company owners can no long play the role of the great and powerful Oz, tucked away safely behind the curtain of PR flacks who run interference to preserve some carefully polished (if somewhat phony) image.

By allowing greater accessibility, the company CEO can easily become the friendly face of the brand.

Perhaps the epitome of infusing personality into the promotion of products are the dynamic duo of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – the masterminds behind Ben & Jerry’s. The company’s about page relates the “long, strange dip” of two very real people from humble beginnings who became a worldwide ice cream success story. They’re hardly your typical buttoned-up, suit-and-tie-clad CEOs, but they are 100 percent authentic, and their customers recognize and reward their lack of pretense or posturing.

Surround yourself with a trustworthy (and trust-building) team.

The responsibility for putting a good face on the company isn’t relegated to the C-suite; it’s up to every employee to gain and maintain the trust of the customer.

When you can show that it’s not just the owner or the board of directors or the marketing department that toe the company line but that every single employee at every level of the company stands for the same set of core values, your customers will respond favorably and be inspired to become an advocate for your brand.

Many savvy companies that have embraced this new reality have adopted an open-door policy to using social media. Whole Foods Market is a great example of this community-minded, team-based approach. The entire company, along with its employees, take an active role in promoting environmental and humanitarian causes via social media networks. As a result, Whole Foods’ customers value not only the products they sell but the people behind the brand, and in turn, they do what they can to help promote a company with a conscience that puts people ahead of profits.

Andy Beth Miller
Andy Beth Miller is a freelance writer and editor who finds time to create amid sun and surf in the Hawaiian Islands. She has worked for numerous magazines and online publications and may be reached at andykhailaz@yahoo.com.