5 Ways Brands Can Establish Human Relationships With Audiences

BY JESSICA NIELSEN, Communications CONSULTANT

Developing strong brand relationships with customers is critical in today’s 24-7 marketplace. We live in a world where thoughts, impressions and feelings regarding companies can become public immediately and set in granite soon after. This makes the relationship between brand and customer critical. Still, many brands make missteps. To mitigate that possibility, it’s important for communicators to ensure they are committed to the basics of brand management, consistently demonstrate those tenets and extend the fundamental brand platforms to engage fully with audiences. While this is easier said than done, there are many ways to evaluate your brand. Here are five steps to begin the process toward stronger relationships with your customers.

Determine Your Brand Values and Mission: The first step is to determine your brand’s core identity and whether it is living up to customer expectations. What does your brand do best? Can you define it in a simple mission statement? Life is Good, the New England retailer known for T-shirts, says it exists to “spread the power of optimism.” It’s a simple phrase, but it makes perfect sense. That statement is the company’s lifeblood. The products themselves often visually verbalize the idea of optimism and the company lives this ethic financially, donating 10% of its profits to kids in need. Everything the company does can be traced to its brand values. Having a foundation and sticking to it are critical parts of building a strong brand. Expand on Values to Develop Your Brand Story: Brand values and missions are the foundation for strong brand relationships. But the basics can seem hollow without providing supporting facts within the brand story. How does a brand truly support its stated mission? Can you prove that your brand lives its mission? Southwest Airlines ’ mission is to be “dedicated to the highest quality of customer service, delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and company spirit.” From the team at the counter through to the flight crew, Southwest employees make customers feel special. Sharing customer and employee stories via traditional and social media, Southwest has leveraged this terrific attitude. Each interaction supports its fundamental mission—and has resulted in multiple recognitions for customer service, including Air Transport World magazine’s 2015 Airline of the Year award. Take the fundamental mission of your organization and find stories that showcase your commitment to it. Creating Customer Experiences Expands Your Story: As we know, consumers feel that they have real relationships with some brands—they expect two-way conversations via social media so they can express their feelings and emotions, good and bad. Companies that open themselves to this experience are rewarded with not only better customers but also superior information from those brand advocates. Those companies that seem open to conversation but are not may find themselves scuffling. For example, see Party City’s removal of a respectful social post about its costumes’ gender messages. Take your brand story one step further. Allow customers to experience your brand through unique moments. American Express often is at the forefront of creating experiences for its customers, the most recent example being its “Journeymakers” site. The site allows customers to celebrate people who make trips memorable—and reminds them that American Express allows them to have these experiences as well. These experiences also hark back to Amex’s mission: “Helping Customers Do More and Achieve More.” Brooks Brothers also recently has urged customers to write about their experiences with its clothing. Tales from “My Brooks Brothers Story” are featured in a fall campaign and archived online. Reward Loyal Customers: Identifying brand advocates or loyal customers allows you to reward them. Starbucks ’ mission is: To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time. Not only does Starbucks provide the neighborhood spirit within its stores, it also listens to customers and provides them the services they desire. Two recent examples are the pumpkin spice latte with real pumpkin—and the announcement of mobile order and pay. Engage Employees to Expand Your Reach: The aforementioned companies have something else in common that makes them great brands—they engage their employees and empower them to create a positive customer experience. Dell, which has been at the forefront of social media activity, has a powerful force behind its success in this area—its employees. The company has an extensive social media training program, certifying team members to be spokespeople for the company and empowering them to discuss its products and services on multiple social platforms. Notifying this extensive network to spread the word, Dell amplifies its communications activities and product announcements.

Like human relationships, brand relationships require maintenance and upkeep. Once the basics are set, maintain a constant, consistent drumbeat of your story and perform routine check-ins to make sure you are adhering to your brand mission. If you fail to define your relationship with your customer and your brand, someone else will. You probably will be unhappy with the outcome. Build a strong brand relationship and maintain it. It’s likely to serve you for a long time.

Thank you to Sophie Wilson, director of sales and marketing, PHA Media, for suggesting this story.

CONTACT: jessica.pantages@gmail.com

This article originally appeared in the October 12, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.