Brands Must Navigate Back To Relationships

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Brands Must Navigate Back To Relationships

There’s an understandable tension regarding the role of technology and whether it is strengthening or weakening human relationships. While the recent scandal at Facebook and this week’s attack at YouTube headquarters have focused greater public attention on the risks and dangers of technology to society, there has been a growing surge of tech backlash and digital disappointment for years.

In response to this, many brands have mirrored cultural calls-to-action to incorporate greater levels of empathy, understanding and emotional connections. When they do this, these brands not only strengthen their organization, culture and strategy – they end up with a deeper, stronger and more resilient purpose. One of the best examples of this is the transformation happening at Microsoft. CEO Satya Nadella details his quest to rediscover Microsoft’s soul and imagine a better future for everyone in his book ‘Hit Refresh’. Under Satya’s direction, the brand has become more inclusive and accessible. What was once a largely closed silo of Windows-only systems is now a largely open ecosystem of flexible technology that can be experienced in whatever way the user wants.

It’s a direction that leads us back to the reason brands exist in the first place — to meet human needs.

Esther Perel is a relationship therapist who’s built a following through a series of TED talks, blog posts, and a podcast. At 2018’s SXSW, she gave what Marie Safford at JWT Intelligence called, “a standout keynote, [in which Esther] gently berated the SXSW audience for neglecting to focus on human relationships.” The core theme of this talk was anchored by the idea that, ‘The quality of your relationships is what determines the quality of your life.’

The advent of so many platforms and technology have seduced us into thinking we can offload some of the burdens of a relationship to systems. At a personal level, the ‘swipe left or right’ of apps like Tinder have reduce a bit of the awkwardness around starting a relationship, but in so doing, some sociologists like Eric Klinenberg caution that our attachment to technology has affected our ability to properly engage.

Up-level Eric’s sentiment to us as marketers. What we once called relationship marketing is now often called marketing automation. Words matter, and by removing ‘relationship’ from the practice, perhaps we’ve diminished the intent (and potential) of what technologies like marketing automation can do. Some marketers feel the need to deploy automated customer nurturing as a way to capture attention versus providing increasing value and relevance. As my colleague Robert Payne often points out, “Nurture is not a tactic, it is a strategy.”

Brands might benefit from an occasional visit to a couple’s therapist, if only in a conceptual way. Three topics in this therapy session might be:

1. Gaining a better customer understanding. For brands that need help better understanding their customers, my first question would be “When did you last update your personas?” or “When did you last search for the truth via customer research?” It’s surprisingly easy to use social networks to uncover information about your customers. Too many brands look at personas as requiring an exhaustive research. While it’s true that the more you invest in researching your audience and segments usually translates into more precision for personas, it doesn’t always have to be such a heavy lift.

2. Bridging the gap between marketing and sales. Most often, it’s sales teams that are closest to the customer, so it makes no sense when these two disciplines are not viewed as one. Marketers need to give sales a seat at the table, especially as the customer journey gets deeper into the funnel. Solicit their input on programs and get their buy-in and validation through routine health checks.

3. Digital isn’t what it used to be. With the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR in Europe, and more privacy regulation inevitable in other global regions, the ability to use extensive targeting and tracking data may spell changes to online advertising. But this might open up better chances offline. When was the last time your brand did direct mail? How is your brand using digital to bring people together in real life, at events or meetups that are built around customer and employee needs and interests? And if you want to reimagine the possibilities with digital, take inspiration from our own Geoffrey Colon, who has taken it upon himself to program an Alexa skill to give marketers some top tips in a program called Disruptive FM Daily. If it’s not what it used to be, try something different.

If you were to take your brand to a couple’s therapist, who else would you want to invite?

The Blake Project Can Help: The Customer Experience Co-Creation Workshop

Build A Human Centric Brand At Marketing’s Most Powerful Event: The Un-Conference: 360 Degrees of Brand Strategy for a Changing World, May 14-16, 2018 in San Diego, California. A fun, competitive-learning experience reserved for 50 marketing oriented leaders and professionals.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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