Relationships are built on trust, respect, communication, and shared values. Over time, they broaden and deepen, providing some of our greatest joy and meaning. Consider the relationships with your family, friends, and co-workers. Likely, they have ebbed and flowed, involving lightweight interactions (like texting) and more meaningful time together (like a video call or in-person visit).
Perhaps you have been in a situation with someone where you didn’t feel close to them. Maybe you thought you would never be friends with them, but over time, you began to appreciate them. Brands have a similar opportunity to design relationships with their customers, and as they do, they can find greater success.
Most relationships benefit from a “value exchange” component, where both parties give and receive. Its importance in your life will ultimately be based on how many of your needs are met through that exchange. That may sound a little selfish, but rest assured that the other party in the relationship is also experiencing your connection through the lens of Maslow’s tiers. It’s the nature of human attachment. We seek to give but also to get, and we build our tribes to secure our survival but also thrive physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
As the basis of human interconnectedness, your brand’s relationship with your customers shouldn’t be any different. Simply supplying a product or service may drive short-term sales, but it will not help you build a deep, meaningful relationship that lasts for decades or even a lifetime. To do that, humanize your brand.
You can’t build a relationship with someone if you don’t know who they are, and your brand cannot hope to connect with its customers if it’s unclear who you’re trying to build a relationship with.
Hospitality brands have access to detailed customer data, making it easy to connect and start building relationships. This data can help them serve their customers’ needs because they already know some of them. Customers can see past the brick-and-mortar venue and begin acknowledging the humanity behind the brand.
That said, brands that have ample data don’t always act on that info in a way that drives mutual value exchange. For example, if my rental car company asks me if I am traveling for work or leisure but never asks if I’m traveling with my kids, they’re missing an opportunity. They could have offered to stock the car with snacks for them. Having the data is a great start, but acting on the data is imperative.
Disintermediated brands have a different challenge. Businesses that don’t interact directly with their end-user face an information void. They can see their product moving, but their sales data doesn’t offer the same value that direct sellers gain. Let’s take a brand like Bounty, for instance. Their end-user will probably never interact directly with Bounty unless it’s for a complaint—and even then, that might be handled by the supermarket where the product was purchased. How does a brand like this connect with its customers if it doesn’t have data about who they are?
Disintermediated brands must become data-centric. Customers should be encouraged to interact directly with the manufacturer or first-level supplier—not the store they purchased the product from. To do this, businesses should offer some value in exchange for that interaction.
A good example of this is Selkirk, the pickleball racquet supplier. Customers scan their racket on arrival to register for a warranty. When they do, they’re prompted to download the Selkirk app to access live-streamed pickleball games and tutorials on becoming a better player. The type of program you put in place will depend on your brand and the space you’re in, but the key is to get your customer excited about interacting with you directly.
The data-centric program you put in place should tick four boxes:
- Identify your best customers and most frequent users; these are the customer characteristics you want to deepen.
- Retain customers and increase average revenue per customer.
- Find new customers.
- Go beyond transactional and into an emotional connection.
Maybe a single program won’t tick all four boxes for your business, but this crucial criteria is still worth designing around.
Acknowledging the Nuances
Three overriding questions can guide you when trying to understand how to humanize your brand through the value you offer:
- What are your brand’s goals?
- What are your customer’s needs?
- What data technology is available to you (or can you create) as a platform for this relationship?
The nexus of these three questions is where your customer relationship-building journey begins. It is the answer to how you humanize your brand:
Satisfied Need (Brand) + Satisfied Need (Customer) + Correct Environment = Symbiotic Relationship.
The nuances within your brand’s space will impact how you fill in that formula. For example, we did a campaign with F1 called Wake-Up Call for Formula 1 fans. The idea is that fans around the globe receive recorded calls from their favorite F1 driver before the race starts in their time zone. The value in that experience for the fan is enormous, and it gives F1 access they would not have otherwise had.
Despite nuances, all brands should have four overarching goals:
- Make prospective customers aware of their brand.
- Move these customers through the consideration phase of the sales funnel.
- Get those customers to repeat their sales.
- Turn those customers into advocates for the brand.
There is no better sales tool than a customer who finds so much value in your brand that they want the world to know. If you’re creating advocates, you’ve successfully humanized your brand.
Relationships like this aren’t built in a day. As scaling your business is a delicate and sometimes arduous process, building a humanized brand requires empathy, patience, and flexibility. Every failed attempt brings you closer to the right combination of variables, and once you’ve hit the sweet spot, you’ll start to see the results in every facet of your business.
This article was originally published on FastCompany.com