When you introduce yourself to a new friend at the gym or at your kid’s school event, do you rattle off a list of why you would be a great friend? No, you start with common ground. The weather, the workout, if you like your kid’s teacher.
The same can be said for your brand as it begins to build a relationship with new customers. When there are so many brands, products, and services vying for their attention, a list of product features or a sales pitch isn’t going to result in loyal customers, a relationship is.
How do you build a relationship with your customers? It starts with knowing who you are.
Know who you are
Knowing who you are is the first step to showing up authentically. Whether you are a personal brand, a consumer brand, or a service brand, knowing (and effectively communicating) who you are, what you stand for, and what you believe in is more important than your ad spend.
Completing a Brand Framework can be a great place to start. Getting clear on your why, your personality, how you intend to deliver your mission, and your values are what define your brand, not just your logo or color palette. Did you know that Nike, for the first 14 years of its existence wasn’t called Nike? Phil Knight, from the very beginning, knew his why even if he didn’t know to call it that. His mission to expand human potential superseded the catchy name and iconic mark we know today, and is what created the foundational blocks of success for the company.
A brand isn’t just a name or logo, it’s the perceptions and associations consumers have with your name, logo, product, or service. And those perceptions and associations are formed each time a potential customer interacts with your brand. What you say, how you say it, and how you show up in those interactions make all the difference. By knowing who you are and showing up consistently, you can begin to build a strong, recognizable brand.
Know your audience
Once you have a clear sense of who you are, you need to get to know who your customer is. This step purposefully comes after defining your brand. Your customer’s needs and desires, pain points and personality can influence how you communicate your message but shouldn’t dictate what you have to say. That is brand-led. And if it’s not, your customer will smell the disingenuity from a mile away, at which point, you’ve lost them.
Does anyone remember Microsoft Zune? If not, you’re among friends here. When Apple had monumental success with its invention of the iPod, Microsoft wanted in, thus Zune. However, Apple’s Brand Purpose is to challenge the status quo, and after they did just that with their Macintosh computer, customers trusted them. Microsoft’s Brand Purpose is to empower individuals and organizations to achieve more… which works for document softwares, email platforms, and team meeting capabilities, but a music device? If Microsoft had stood more firmly in who they are and what their customers had come to know and trust about them, they may have realized a music device wasn’t going to work with their audience.
There are a plethora of tools to get to know your customer. The StoryBrand Framework, creating personas, building day-in-the-life maps, and talking to potential or current customers are good places to start. Armed with the deep understanding of both yourself and your customer, you can find the common ground and begin building the relationship with customers that will make all the difference when they decide who to buy from.
Common ground can mean taking a stand on an issue, empathizing with a pain point, using imagery that they will see themselves in, or simply sharing lighthearted or on-brand content that will stick with them. Bonus: Common ground also means saveable, shareable, and likable content. We recommend creating content pillars or buckets to make your content strategy simple and low-maintenance.
Common ground can also mean taking a look at where your customers are, and meeting them there. If your customer isn’t on YouTube or if your customer’s search intent isn’t going to lead them to a video, don’t prioritize long form video content. Similarly, if you know your customer prefers funny memes and shareable scenarios on Instagram, do that instead.
Show up authentically
Leading with authenticity in your marketing is all about when and how you show up. If you’re like me, you’ve heard the message that you have to post X times a day or at X o’clock. Nobody has time for that, especially if you’re running your business and your marketing. Consider reframing the cultural definition of consistency online as showing up authentically. Post when it feels in alignment with you and your brand, not just because it’s 10am on a Tuesday. If you hate being on camera, don’t be on camera. If writing long-form blogs isn’t your style, then don’t do that! If you enjoy making your content, it will show, and you’ll connect more authentically with your customers.
The world is on fire right now in a very real, very scary, very heavy way. Showing up authentically in our marketing also means acknowledging what’s going on in the world and how it impacts us and our audience. Posting about or starting a conversation about current world events lets your audience get to know you even better. And your audience will appreciate you holding off on a sale or new product launch post far more than being served an ad from your brand after seeing an image of a warzone.
When we show up authentically, we have the opportunity to create real, lasting relationships with our audience, which will go much further than a one-time sale buyer. Relationships build brand loyalty, brand champions, but more importantly, showing up authentically relieves us of the pressure to perform, post, share, and tap more into our joy and passion for our work.
About Caroline Rice
Caroline has been deploying creative strategy for over a decade, helping established and new-to-world brands uncover their purpose and authentically connect with their target audience. She believes in the power a well-built, value-driven brand has to cut through the noise, inspire meaningful experiences, and be the starting block of success. She’s on a mission to create a more equitable marketplace through socially conscious brand building and empowering the voices, ideas, and brands of marginalized communities. Brand development, content strategy, copywriting, and experience design are her sweet spots. She brings passion, curiosity, and organization to every thing she does, believes the delight is in the details, and that there is nothing a good cup of coffee can’t solve.