“Over the last twenty years, with the way technology has gone, there has been a lack of connection between brands and their customers. At the same time, social networks have become ubiquitous in everyday life. These social networks have stepped up, and are now the biggest way in which people stay connected. This means that brands need to find ways to connect with people using technology. That’s where personification comes in, it makes it possible to build that connection between a brand and a customer online.” – Marc Lamoureux
Brand personification is one of the biggest trends in digital marketing today. Seemingly every brand, from StubHub and Disney, to boutique B2B operations have been trying to figure out how they can more effectively personify their brand and engagements. To research the subject, I sat down with Veriday’s CEO, Marc Lamoureux, who has been working with companies who are looking to improve customer engagement using personal and scalable solutions.
When we think of a person, what do we think of? Naturally, we think of demographic descriptors to describe that person. Similarly, just as a person will have certain characteristics that define them, so will a brand.
Why is this important? Because consumers are more likely to identify and stay loyal with brands that closely resemble themselves in terms of personality. So, how can we build our brand to connect our values and goals with those of our customers while having valuable conversations with them? This is where brand personification comes in.
What is Brand Personification?
Brand personification is a projective technique where people think about brands as if they were people, and describe how they would think and feel. Research suggests that personifying a brand and giving the brand distinct human qualities will help people connect better with the company. Similar to human relationships, this more personal connection can lead to a dialogue, and ultimately the formation of a loyal relationship.
When personifying your brand, you should focus on authenticity, painting an accurate picture of what you and your business represent. If you force characteristics on yourself that simply aren’t present in the organization, people will notice. Instead of forcing those characteristics on yourself, leverage your team to help tell stories that accurately reflect your brand and company culture.
Marketingwise, the goal of brand personification is to better connect your brand with values, goals, and customers. 66% of all customers want human interaction in their experiences. In retail banking, fully engaged customers bring in 37% more annual revenue. It is clear that engaged customers are better customers, so it’s important to get to know our customers, and engage them in a personal way.
Challenges with Brand Personification
Brand personification has its challenges, especially in highly regulated sectors such as finance. As a dealer-broker or a financial advisor, you need to be aware of compliance rules and regulations, including how your brand and messaging fits in with those rules. For example, under FINRA, you must keep a record of all communications. While it is still possible to personify your brand under FINRA, you must be careful to maintain records of every single communication. Marc added:
“One of the perceived challenges of expanding your marketing programs and personifying your brand, through your people, is that it creates a really expensive burden on compliance reviews. In some sectors the burden is larger than in others. Regulators are asking financial service companies to vet every piece of content that is distributed to the public.”
While there are ways to streamline compliance challenges, it is still an inefficiency that needs to be dealt with at some point if you want to get your brand personification efforts off the ground.
The backlash it can cause is another concern regarding brand personification. In a study by Oregon State University, it was found that brands that have been “humanized” will often be held to higher standards than non-humanized brands. The study found that when something went wrong, humanized brands were seen as doing it on purpose.
These issues and concerns need to be taken into consideration when creating a personification strategy. However, If done carefully and effectively, humanizing your brand will increase customer engagement, loyalty, and retention.
How do Customers Respond?
In general, customers respond positively to brand personification. Human-to-human interaction is well received in a world that has become more and more automated and transactional, with technology solutions replacing human interactions.
Humanized branding allows brands to start a conversation with customers. Instead of strict, on-brand propaganda, starting a conversation can put a brand in a more favorable light. A brand that has engaged in personification has the opportunity to be seen as a friend, or at very least a member of the community, as opposed to being viewed as a faceless monolith. Consumers are naturally attracted to humanized brands that they can connect with. You can attract consumers to your business by having similar personalities, values, characteristics or beliefs to them.
In today’s competitive landscape, this extra opportunity to connect and engage with your customers is needed. Social media means that there is constantly a conversation happening online, and you need to be a part of it. If you aren’t there to tell stories about your brand and culture, to many you won’t exist.
Giving your brand human qualities helps you participate in the online conversation. Find your community, the group of people that you wish to do business with, and take part in their conversations. If your brand becomes a reliable and valuable information source for your community, they will grow to trust you.
Building the trust, nurturing the relationship and becoming part of the community can take some time. It is important to remember that social interactions can drive other behaviours. The work involved with developing authentic relationships with the community will pay off down the road.
What Benefits Does Brand Personification Bring?
Your business can see many tangible benefits by personifying your brand, as long as you do it authentically. Here are some ways in which personification can benefit your brand:
- Associates real people with your business.
- Consumers prefer interactions where a real person is on the other end of the conversation.
- Differentiates yourself from the competition.
- People tend to have positive associations with brands that were consistent with their own identity.
- Your niche is more likely to do business with you if your brand has similar convictions as them.
- Aggregate strengths of real people to your brand.
- Use the skills and personalities of your team to create a well-rounded brand persona.
- Your brand can have all the skills and traits of your team.
Personifying Your Brand In Financial Services
In financial services, customers don’t want a 100% transactional relationship. There was a time when everybody knew the names of their bankers at their local bank. Today, this type of relationship with our customers is far less common. As technologies such as ATMs, telephone, online and mobile banking has become ubiquitous, relationships with customers have become less personal, less valuable, and less engaging than they once were. Technology has been putting the industry at risk of becoming too transactional, with a lack of humanization. Due to the sensitive and complex nature of the relationship, customers need to be able to trust their FinServ provider.
The only way to build relationships with customers (and potential customers) is by engaging with them in personal, relevant, and valuable ways. Connect to customers using your people and give your business a personality.
The only major difference in implementing brand personification techniques for financial services is the compliance aspect of it, which can be overcome using specific solutions in the marketplace.
Marc had a great anecdote to summarize brand personification when he said:
“Would you be more likely to engage with Facebook.com (the website) or engage with your friends on Facebook? We view brand personification as invoking the same strategy. A customer is more likely to engage with their friends or real people than a brand that they don’t know.”
The whole idea of personifying (or humanizing) your brand, is to gain that connection that used to be very common in all types of commerce. Back when the social relationship between two parties drove loyalty. Personifying your brand is a strategy for you to be seen as “the friendly neighbourhood RIA” or “the insurance broker down the street”.