THERE has been a sliding-door moment in the past decade, as brands have wanted to become more like people, and people have wanted to become more like brands. Some brands have been very successful in making the transition, by embracing the traits and values we admire and like in people. Some have not.
Likewise, some people have successfully built their own brand by understanding classic brand theory and which levers to pull. Then there are others who latched on to the trend, but had no idea that there were some well-learned principles in how to build a successful brand.
Brands began attempting to become more like people with the advent of social media nearly a decade ago, as consumers started wanting a two way conversation with their brand. Until then, brands had just talked at you. Here’s our great washing powder — here’s what’s in it. Here’s our new bank — we promise our home loan rate’s better than the others. Sure, brands could be entertaining and bend the truth
a little, but it was a one-way conversation. A two-way conversation meant a brand had to be responsive, willing to listen, engaging, empathetic and friendly. And today on Twitter, brands such as Australia Post are like this and will have a friendly conversation with you.
Rewind 10 years when brands started to act more like people, there was a group of people that wanted to act more like brands. They were high-profile people; celebrities, sports stars, politicians, pop stars, chefs and business leaders. Phrases like “that’s good for their brand” started sneaking into the vernacular. They were attracted by the success of brands that could control and spin their message; where consumers only got to hear what those brands wanted them to hear.
The problem was that they had jumped in at the tail end of an era of one-way conversations. Consumers and technology had quickly moved to an era of two-way conversation with brands. They also knew little about classic brand theory, ignoring years of leanings of how to successfully manage a brand. Great brands, as guru David Aaker points out, are built on four key pillars: they are different, relevant, well regarded for their quality and popularity, and people understand them. Get these four pillars right and you have a successful, enduring brand. Get them wrong and things go downhill quickly.
Jamie Oliver was one of the first celebrity chefs to latch on to being a brand in the new era. He didn’t pretend to be anything but himself, he was cheeky, approachable and likeable. It was as if he was having a conversation with you through the television.
He understood how to manage the four key pillars. He was different - he wasn’t your typical looking chef — and his recipes and passion made him extremely relevant to households around the world. He retained his differentiation and relevance as time passed by evolving a passion for tasty, healthy food for financially constrained people. Consumers felt they knew him and his family; he was popular despite being caught in a dispute between farmers and Woolworths. But by understanding and managing these four key pillars over a long time, his brand has easily survived that hiccup, and shown the way for a generation of celebrity chefs looking to manage their personal brands. Similarly, music stars Delta Goodrem, Kylie Minogue and Joel Madden have evolved their brands through their involvement with talent show The Voice. Each had been different enough as artists in the past to sell millions of records, but through the television show consumers had the opportunity to know them in more depth, raising people’s perceptions of them and making them more popular and relevant — classic brand theory executed well.
Conversely, many politicians looking to build their brands are yet to heed the lessons of the four key pillars; many still have a one-way conversation mentality. It’s why the best personal politicians’ brands are always in opposition. There’s less to lose. They are more likely to be themselves with no public relations folk pawing over every word they are about to say or tweet. They have more time to spend in their electorates listening to people and having two-way conversations. They get less airtime, so when they do, they have to work hard to differentiate themselves and stay relevant, and to let the Australian public get to know the real them.
Today’s business leaders can also learn from these lessons as they look to build their own personal brands. But as people want to be more like brands, they have the added obligation of managing their commercial brands to be more like people, as is the want of consumers in 2014. Those that get it right will have a distinct advantage.