The other day, I found myself thumbing through The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, a book that always captivates me with its drawings of graceful bodies. And then it suddenly struck me: I quite clearly saw the connection between the art of the Renaissance and branding in the digital age — nakedness/transparency and humanity.
Let me elaborate…
Today, smart brands realize that branding is more about showing their human side and less about being perfect. They let go of fear of losing control over their brand and have started developing strategies that embrace their nakedness, in order words — they are becoming transparent. How are they doing it? Through an understanding of human needs and shared values and fostering a strong connection between the brand and customers. Hence, the smart brands are focusing on collaborative storytelling, building relationships, and listening and trust building.
Creativity is one of the highest human needs smart brands have learned to utilize. One of the biggest challenges brands face today is the difficulty to control their brand story and dissemination since customers are reshaping the brand stories through their personal stories. Therefore, instead of focusing on total control, the smart brands embrace this phenomenon. Their brand marketers invite the customers to take part in the creative process of brand story telling. They provide them with authentic and compelling narratives which are in line with the brand core values and business objectives, as well as the customer interests.
A great example of collaborative branding can be seen through this video by Ken Arlidge. When Coca-Cola’s ad agencies ran out of ideas, the company turned to its online community to crowdsource ideas.
Here, I would like to point out that there is another very powerful option — which not many companies take advantage of — and that would be to enable and inspire their own employees to carry the story across their networks.
While creativity is a self-fulfillment need, belonging is one of our deep psychological needs. No wonder that today we see the smart brands shifting investments from advertising to building communities and platforms, engaging customers, and thus creating value beyond the product. Just think about Nike+! The Nike brand is integrated into your experience of running with peers, isn’t it?
At the same time, smart brands accept the fact that successful brand communities cannot be tightly controlled either, and that the key is to find the right balance between the structure and flexibility. These brands provide a stimulus on which members of the community respond and they believe that their presence and participation in social media is better than control.
I would emphasize that what becomes crucial for the brands is to identify how to relate to the lives and well-beings of their customers. The connection has to be meaningful in order to be successful. Harley-Davidson is a great example of a strong brand community that delivers customer loyalty and brand authenticity. In the video below, Lara Lee of Jump Associates talks about three basic forms of community affiliation: pools, webs and hubs, and how Harley successfully combines community strategies to their competitive advantage.
Listening and Trust Building
The third tactic that smart brands employ is listening, another one of our strong psychological needs is to understand and be understood. When you think about relationships, regardless of their type (e.g. families, peer groups, organizations, communities, intimate relationships), they are always two ways. Brands must listen and respond to customers. They must acknowledge good and bad, embrace mistakes and resolve them in public. Domino’s Pizza dealt brilliantly well with this…
Don’t be afraid of getting naked. That is the secret of how to build trust in business or in any relationship.
Dean Demellweek is a Branding and Digital Strategist with 20 years of FTSE 100 company experience on both corporate and agency sides and specializes in B2B Integrated Brand Marketing Communications. Dean blogs and tweets about brand experience, brand communities, social brands and personal branding. You can follow Dean on Twitter: @Branding_Guy