I’m going to propose something that might be controversial.
Because branding has been championed as one of the fundamentals of marketing since… well, since modern marketing began.
But I think brand building can actually be bad for business.
That is, if you want to create a meaningful relationship and customer loyalty.
Why Branding can be Bad for Your Business
In a digital world that lacks human connection, provides anonymity and creates an over-saturated and hyper-competitive market, brands are completely disposable to the modern consumer.
Whatever your business is offering, chances are your customers could replace you with a similar product with just one Google search.
Heck, most customers don’t even have to do that any more; your competitors go to them through tailored ads as they browse the web.
For most brands, branding is all about visual identity. They might protest to the contrary, but look at the way they behave – actions speak much louder than words.
And if you’re just relying on a jazzy logo and some pretty packaging to represent your brand, you haven’t got much there to keep customer loyalty if something else comes along.
We’ve reached a point where branding simply becomes a thick veil between business and consumer.
We believe people see themselves in the concepts and aesthetic attached to our products, through flashy ads and graphics.
And I wouldn’t say that’s completely untrue.
It certainly helps with the presentation and mental availability of a product.
But I think what many brands have forgotten is the value of human connection.
And people (particularly younger generations) don’t like it when things seem too corporate.
People don’t like perfect, yet so many brands push for an image of perfection.
Of course, a central purpose of branding is to give a level of professionalism, credibility and consistency, and to set the bar of quality for your audience.
It’s also a way to tell your customer who you are and what you stand for.
But there is such a thing as ‘too perfect’ when it comes to branding, for two main reasons:
- People aren’t perfect, so they’re going to struggle to connect with perfection. As humans, we find comfort in imperfection and see vulnerability in sharing that with each other.
- Perfect is passive. Branded communications that promote a glossy image, especially in an email inbox with fancy graphics and product photos, are immediately registered as adverts in our minds.
People like buying, but don’t like being sold to.
And if the audience doesn’t immediately connect with the product’s visuals, they know they can ignore it.
So when you’re faced with an impersonal, competitive market, how do you stand out?
Push the people.
I propose, if you want to stand out and get people genuinely invested in your business, you need to pull back the veil (if only a little) and push the people behind the business to your customers.
Why you should push more people in your marketing (The science-y bit)
I can bet it was the bottom one.
And not just because it’s Claudia Winkleman riding a horse.
What about these two?
Who would you feel more inclined to reply to if they emailed you?
As humans, we naturally gravitate towards faces.
It’s wired into our programming.
A study from the Journal of Neurophysiology shows we have specialised neural circuits in an area of the brain called ‘fusiform gyrus’ that only respond to faces.
Meaning right off the bat, having faces visible in your marketing immediately catches your customer’s eye, and encourages that initial engagement.
The key thing to highlight here is that this encourages a person’s HUMAN and NATURAL responses to your brand, without having to persuade them with complex words or concepts.
After this initial connection, you can build on it with the right message and a deeper dive into who you are.
And this is just the surface-level potential of pushing the people in your marketing; doing it right can help create a much more profound relationship with your brand than just its face value.
Putting more people in your marketing helps you…
- Naturally build trust with your audience
Sharing yourself with your customers instead of hiding behind a logo communicates honesty, credibility and vulnerability with them.
Seeing human faces and getting to know more about the people behind a brand helps relieve some of the uncertainty around who’s behind a product, what their intentions are and helps customers build trust.
- Become more relatable to your customers
Customers are more likely to connect with you emotionally if they can relate to who you are and what you stand for.
Sharing things about yourself with your customers increases the chance that they’ll see some of themselves in you, or find some common ground.
If you’re the business founder, share why you created the business: people may relate to your drive, your struggles or admire the story of how you got to where you are.
Storytelling is one of the most memorable and engaging ways you can present your business or product.
It’s another psychological fact.
Author Joe Lazauskas puts it best:
“Essentially our brains run on electrical pulses, and when we hear stories our brains light up. Neuroscientists have this saying that neurons that fire together, wire together.
So, when we’re hearing a story and our brain is lighting up, you have all of these neurons that are then wiring together, which triggers us to remember more of the information we’re getting.”
It’s this storytelling that helps you stay memorable in customers minds, and sets you apart from other businesses.
- Give your customers someone to root for
Your business didn’t just come about overnight. And you probably didn’t start your business without a reason.
You’ve got to have passion, determination and drive to be a business owner. And if you’re doing it right, you should have a goal or cause that makes you want to do what you do.
So share it with your customers.
Share your goals.
Share your story.
Share your passion to genuinely make a difference to your customers’ lives.
And frame it in a way that is interesting and relatable to your target audience.
And I know that you can do this in your branding, and you may have your company’s values established throughout your marketing already.
But if your business has a drive and a passion for existing, those are very personal and human emotions.
Your customers may not feel them if it’s coming from a faceless company.
It needs to come from YOU, not your brand.
Emotional reactions are always the most powerful ones.
And if you can communicate your passion and cause to your customers from the heart, they’ll genuinely feel good about supporting you.
To fully optimise this, don’t just tell them once at the beginning of their customer journey.
Through consistent messaging, let your customers get to know you and the business.
Keep them updated on how things are going with the business as it grows, and share your journey with them.
It’s almost like catching up with a friend.
- Stand out from your competitors
‘There’s only one of you’ as they say, so sharing yourself with your customers is a unique way to market your business.
There’s a growing disconnect between products and customers, due to the anonymity and overcrowded marketplace the internet brings, so brands are much more disposable.
Using a human, recognisable face to illustrate your business/brand will give your customers a unique sense of comfort, catch their attention and can develop a relatable, emotional connection which will help them remember you and give them a reason to listen.
- Increase customer loyalty
Once you begin building an emotional connection with your audience, they’re going to become more attached to your brand, from a place that is genuine, personal and rewarding for them.
It’s natural human behaviour that the more you feel a positive emotional connection with someone, the more you want to do for them, and the desire to stay loyal to them increases.
And if you build an emotional connection with your customers that’s people driven, that’s exactly what you’ll get.
- Appeal to a more modern, conscious consumer
With the rise of a new generation, come new challenges and behaviours.
Thanks to the internet and the accessibility of information, today’s consumer is more conscious of where products come from.
Not just in terms of ethics and sustainability, people enjoy supporting smaller businesses and the people behind them.
Sharing yourself with your audience eases that anxiety of who’s behind the company, builds trust through honesty and makes their buying experience more rewarding as they know the people they’re supporting.
So how do I do this?
It’s important to stress that, even though it seems I’m bashing branding a lot in this piece, it is still needed to an extent.
My problem with branding – and specifically the over-reliance on a polished visual identity – is when it overshadows any humanity, and separates your customer from the chance to ‘belong’.
You need to strike the right balance between people and branding. When they go hand in hand, they elevate each other.
Including the people behind the brand should only help emphasise your brand’s values in a form that your customers will be able to connect with in the most powerful way possible.
If you want to start pushing the people to create a better connection with your customers, you should:
- Get your message right
This is particularly important if you want to share the founders of the business with your audience.
You want to share yourself in a way that is honest, but would appeal to the values that your target audience has.
Form your values, share your drive and passion for why the business exists; share the story it took to get you here and where you want to go next.
- Put it on your website
Showcase your story and friendly faces at the forefront of your website.
You can also create a dedicated ‘about us’ or ‘meet the team’ page for people to browse and connect with.
Think of it like a space to pitch yourself to your audience, beyond the product, like on an episode of Dragons Den – a lot of the appeal is the person selling, and the story, drive and ambitions of the business, that are almost as important as the product itself.
A really great example of this comes from Rheal Superfoods, as shown below:
Rheal has provided a photo of their founders – Charlotte and Sean to greet you as soon as you open the page.
I think it’s important to note here that although the photo has been staged, it comes across as quite natural. There’s no over the top editing to the picture, filters or posing.
They share their story and emphasise why their business is PERSONAL TO THEM, not just the customers.
And that’s a key ingredient in building that human connection with your business.
You genuinely understand and feel their drive for what they do, and are therefore more likely to want to support them.
If you want a few more examples, I’ve listed some more below, including a great one from our client LYMA:
And not to blow our own trumpet but our meet the team page isn’t half bad either…
- Build on this relationship in your follow up strategy
If you want to build customer loyalty, once you’ve established who you are to your customers, don’t fall silent.
Like any relationship, it takes time, effort and dedication to grow.
So show up for your customers, interact with them and let them get to know you.
To do this, you need to create a consistent follow up strategy in place to keep in touch with your customers over time.
A good example of this is a regular email newsletter, used to send updates/messages to customers who you know are interested.
It’s important to note that your follow up strategy shouldn’t just be about you, it should be balanced with other things such as useful content, product updates, etc.
But using posts about yourself and your relationship with the business is a key ingredient that should be part of the follow up mix.
When they sign up for your newsletter, introduce yourself as part of the initial welcome emails, to set up that relationship straight away.
Below is a great example from Form on what that could look like:
You can then give them more information down the line.
For example, tell them something interesting about yourself you think they’d like to hear, give your customers updates on how things are going with the business, share relevant stories from your life/business journeys to make them feel something (laugh or cry!).
And this human touch can be implemented in the rest of your follow up strategy, customer service or email strategy in general.
For example, something as simple as using the name of a real person as your email ‘sender name’ can make a world of difference.
Take a look at the two images below. Which email would you be more inclined to open?
People’s inboxes are already overcrowded, and the constant promotional material sent by brands just creates a lot of noise that we have to mentally filter out.
So what do we prioritise engaging with in an overcrowded inbox?
We feel the need to prioritise messages from real people as they need a response, calling on our innate sense of social obligation.
Messages from brands can be ignored and then forgotten about, as they’re easily recognisable as impersonal, mass emails sent out to thousands of other people, and therefore won’t have social repercussions if you don’t reply.
So if you frame your email strategy to appear to be from a real person, rather than just PR from a brand, you’re setting yourself up to be a natural priority in your customers inbox.
When they open your emails, you can also personalise the footer to include the sender’s information, with a photo of them to connect with.
It could look something like this:
This again ties into the social obligation to engage and reply to your email, if your customer feels there is a real person waiting for a response.
Including staff members’ identities in your emails also helps build trust with your brand, makes your marketing feel more personalised and helps your customers feel supported by a real person, not a robot.
In conclusion, pushing more people in your branding can create a natural, rewarding, loyal and emotional connection with your customers in a way that a faceless brand can’t.
In a digital world where brands are becoming bigger, impersonal and disconnected from the customer, bringing back the people and personality to your business can give you a refreshing and comforting edge over your competitors.
Having humans in your marketing and the forefront of your branding plays into people’s natural psychological instincts to engage, trust and feel connected to your brand.
You can push the people in every corner of your business – from marketing to customer service – to reap the full benefits of engaging with your customers.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can implement a more personalised marketing strategy to connect with your customers, check out our services here.
Or if you’re keen to get started building a winning, human follow up strategy to build loyalty with your customers…