Spend just five minutes with someone and you can get a pretty clear picture of their mood, attitude, and general worldview. We enjoy getting to know our clients as much as we like getting the work done that makes their lives easier. A few things have become clear along the way—things strongly supported by research in the field of marketing.
1. You are your brand.
If it’s your business, it’s your personality that customers interact with, even if you have numerous layers of employees. As Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company magazine, puts it, “Brand is culture; culture is brand.” The culture aspect plays out because we like to work with people who are a lot like us. They may not look like us or sound like us, but “we” come out in the mix just the same, and the impact on our customers produces emotions that influence their purchase decisions and ultimately their relationship with us. Today’s marketing gurus are fairly clear on one thing: Brand isn’t a logo or design; it’s how you make people feel.
This is complex because we may have lofty intentions while deep down we just feel like cutting corners, so we hire people who’ll cut corners for us. On the other hand, we may struggle with certain aspects of running our business, and, recognizing those weaknesses, hire people with strengths who make up for what we lack. Again, our behind-the scenes perspective and decision-making culture reflects both our best and our worst to our customers. They react and interact accordingly.
At some point, you have to ask, “How is my brand making my customers feel?”
Your own hunches based on friendly, routine conversations with them aren’t trustworthy. You have to actually ask them. The problem is, they generally won’t tell you straight to your face. They may not even know or understand how you make them feel. A thoughtful social media strategy can help you get answers and serve as a basis for tweaking and better communicating your brand position.
2. You can change, and so can your brand.
Based on goals and objectives you set today, you can reposition your brand over time to better meet customer needs and reflect your best intentions. Social media and online platforms are just tools for accomplishing those purposes.
The question is, do you want your brand to reflect the accidental you or the intentional you? Are you willing to plan and make deliberate, daily marketing decisions that show evidence of vision and purpose in your daily customer interactions (online and in person) or are you just trying to survive today’s storms?
It’s about as hard—and as easy—as weight loss. That’s the good and bad of it. If you want to lose weight or get in shape, certain things must be done. You have to figure out what those things are and do them. It’s simple (it really is), yet decade after decade most of us are still trying to lose the same 10 or 20 pounds.
Ultimately, you have to start somewhere, and that somewhere usually involves vision, planning, and grit. There’s one more important factor. Perhaps it’s the best place to start.
3. Positivity attracts—negativity distracts.
Positivity attracts most customers, while negativity tends to send them running into the woods or distracts them from value delivered. This principle isn’t as simple as it sounds. We’re not talking about simple optimism. More complex forces are at work.
Negativity does have a certain attractiveness. All kinds of people band together around pessimistic views and find warm solace in each others’ company—at least for a time. So what are we really talking about?
Consider properties of matter—in particular the property of electrical charge. Most subatomic particles have either a positive or a negative charge. Electrical force flows between particles with opposite charges—resulting in attraction—while particles with like charges repel each other.
Now, consider the fact that we as humans tend toward negativity bias. Statistically, we make more decisions based on avoiding negative consequences than on achieving positive ones. Customers are more likely to repeat negative buzz than to post positive reviews. Further, most are more likely to hear, process, remember, and act on negative word-of-mouth than positive. In other words, there’s plenty of negativity going around.
Believe it or not, that’s good news. If the property of electrical charge serves as a good analogy (and we’re convinced it does), all that negativity is just looking for some positivity to be attracted to. This vast negativity vacuum creates a fantastic opportunity for positive brands to fill the void.
What that looks like for your brand depends on the value you offer and how it matches up with your target market’s needs and wants (a discussion for another day). You have to figure that out. (Get help if necessary.)
4. The positive path is always the best one.
Ultimately, we advise our clients to choose a positive path and embrace an optimistic outlook wherever possible. Save discussion of challenging trends and downward momentum for the back room and the boardroom. Never subject your customers to it.
Being a joyful, positive brand begins with being a joyful, positive person who creates a joyful, positive company culture. Let it spill out genuinely into your marketing and social media communications. After all, you can’t pretend to be something you aren’t. Customers can see through the veneer—and if they can’t, there are plenty of other customers waiting to help them.
Your customers trust you to do one thing: credibly fulfill your brand promise to them. Do it with a confident smile from start to finish, and they’ll likely return. Deal with the messes later. Express that positivity through social media, always taking into account the types of content they expect to find on various social media platforms.
We’re not talking about feigning a “happy” stance in the face of stark realities. We’re also not urging you to “act” happy when your customers clearly aren’t. (Most customers want you to show empathy by matching their moods.) Instead, we recommend that you intentionally and strategically communicate the right things at the right times in the right places to the right people. Your customers aren’t your punching bags. They’re your most important business partners. Treat them with just that level of care.
5. It’s important to keep them guessing.
In every corner of your business space (on- and offline), avoid talking about your personal or business challenges except in sharing how you’ve found ways to overcome them—even then, only with great care. Your positive customers will recognize “business as usual,” and your negative ones will walk away wondering what you know that they don’t. They’ll probably come back later to try and find out.
Conna Bond is, at this writing, an assistant professor of marketing, consumer behavior, business ethics, and business communication. She’s also the co-owner of PineappleBiz and Red Canoe Creative Studio.
Dimensional Research (2013). Customer Service and Business Results: A Survey of Customer Service from Mid-Size Companies. Retrieved at http://cdn.zendesk.com/resources/whitepapers/Zendesk_WP_Customer_Service_and_Business_Results.pdf
Lax, H. (2012). Bad is Stronger Than Good: Lessons for Customer Loyalty & Experience. Customer Think. Retrieved at http://customerthink.com/bad_is_stronger_than_good_lessons_for_customer_loyalty_experience_by_howard_lax/
Tugend, A. (2012). Praise is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall. The New York Times. Retrieved at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/your-money/why-people-remember-negative-events-more-than-positive-ones.html?_r=0
Williams, R. (2014). Are We Hardwired To Be Positive or Negative? On the capacity to emphasize the negative rather than the positive. Psychology Today. Retrieved at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201406/are-we-hardwired-be-positive-or-negative