What does it mean to be a living brand?

Brands have always had to strike a delicate balance between being an entity that will stand the test of time and also one that can evolve with the times. But customer expectations are shifting faster than ever before, especially among demographics like millennials. These younger consumers want to support brands that stand for something, particularly when it comes to social issues, with 83% wanting companies to align with their values and 76% wanting CEOs to speak out on issues they care about.

As a result, brands need to become an expression of their customers rather than asking their customers to identify with them. So how do they do that? They adopt a Living Brand mindset that allows them to create more human, seamless, and responsive interactions.

Be Human

According to a 2018 report, brands who are perceived as “human” enjoy a 20% point advantage in how likely consumers are to recommend them, a 19% point boost in likelihood to be “loved,” and a 17% point advantage in likelihood to purchase, compared to “non-human” brands. What does it mean to be a “human” brand exactly? It means be real.

Nobody likes to be spoken at yet it’s a tendency so many brands have when it comes to communicating with their customers. It can be tempting to try to woo and wow your customers by using jargon you think they want to hear. But don’t. Be you. Be relatable. Speak to your customers as you would want to be spoken to. And be the most authentic version of you/the brand.

In 2020, Patagonia, a brand known for its environmental activism (you may remember their anti-capitalist Black Friday full-page ad in the New York Times back in 2011), took a phrase their famous founder Yvon Chouinard has repeatedly said in reference to the politicians in office who refused to address climate change – ”Vote the assholes out” – and embroidered it on the inside tag of a select style of its shorts. Within days, they sold out.

Nike was perhaps the first big brand to leverage their platform and take a stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and as a result, they saw a $6 billion brand value increase and a 31% boost in sales after their famous Colin Kapernick campaign.

Be Seamless

We’ve all had the frustrating experience at one point or another, where you find yourself on hold with a company while one customer service rep seeks out the support from another department about your account or purchase while you listen to outdated music wondering how things are not more integrated and connected. It’s because businesses often operate in silos whereas people do not. If you’re looking to provide better (or the best) customer experiences, connecting departments and data so they can operate more seamlessly is imperative.

To expand on this, not only do systems need to be connected, but everyone within an organization, at every single touchpoint a customer may have, has to not only have a strong understanding for the values of the company, but should feel empowered to live those values in order to deliver on them properly and consistently. 

Be Responsive

There’s a lot going on in the world and as a result, a living brand needs to be responsive, from acknowledging and addressing social causes or new verticals, to responding to customer inquiries in a timely manner. Sometimes, larger forces come into play like a global pandemic that upends everything. When COVID-19 took the world by storm in early 2020, brands had to quickly pivot to address an entirely new way of operating.

But it goes far beyond the speed to which you can respond – you also must do so in a way that provides value. Take Salesforce for instance. In response to COVID, they relaunched a revamped version of Work.com (a product they had retired in 2015) offering a series of applications tailored to address the new landscape we were all working in.

Sometimes, your way of being responsive may be a tactical one, like creating a living logo that meets customers where they are on their journey, or in the case of the San Francisco Symphony, one that reacts to music being played.

While the products, technology, data and analytics are important, it’s equally as important to remember that certain feelings like empathy help create a fully cohesive experience for customers when they are living the brand.

If you’re interested in learning more about creating an emotional brand connection, read my recent blog about the topic here. And if you’d like to connect to discuss creating a living brand in more detail, you can contact me at brian@studioscience.com.

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