Now we get to the philosophical and, perhaps, anthropological part of this series, in which we examine how potential customer behaviors have adjusted in the platform space, how their identities have evolved and can shift between platforms, and how that fundamentally reshapes the role of brand from here on out. Our new digital moment has transformed the idea of “brand” into something far more complex, and yet more intrinsically accessible… almost like a person.
If you haven’t followed this series from the beginning, The previous six installments help define platform-based marketing and provide a foundation for what we will discuss in the coming paragraphs.
The Age of identity
Before the rise of consumer internet, the language between brand and customer was unequivocally uni-directional (brand to customer via TV, print, etc.) and monolithic (commercial slogans, hyperbole, a cavalcade of reasons why the brand is absolutely great). In the calculations of most marketing strategies, the individual had to be clumped into large, easily targetable demographic pools. This is completely understandable considering the primitive tools they had at their disposal.
Social media has empowered individuals to wiggle free of the demographic morass and present ourselves as complex, multi-faceted people. Now in some ways this has caused a mess (look at our politics), but in other ways it has illuminated the intricacies of identity. Are we still clumped into demographic pools? Absolutely. But just look how much more data-driven marketing has become. The vast amounts of information has revealed that we all don’t think the same, don’t feel the same, have shifting tastes, experience fluid moods, and through it all still have a desire to belong. So we may still be clumped into demographic pools, but there are so many more pools, so many more gravitational centers of attention and commerce, and so many more ways that we can relate to a brand.
In fact, since different platforms attract different identity types (as discussed in PART 3 of this series), individuals may present in different ways depending on what platform they are on. Facebook is where they indulge family and friends, Instagram is where they spam their glam, Twitch is where they hang out and relax, Reddit is where they opine, etc.
Who do you like?
When we ask ourselves what are the desirable qualities of people we want to be around and support, and who want to support us, we describe them as trustworthy, fun, possessing a capacity for depth but can take things in stride, into similar things, etc. Then think of the things that make each of the people you know unique (because who wants to hang out with carbon copies of the ideal companion).
This becomes your brand identity, for a specific platform. Just as users can shift identity from platform to platform, a brand has the luxury of doing the same thing. After all, there are many facets to any one individual, and there’s a platform out there that caters to each facet.
Rather than dwelling on What your brand is? Ask, Who your brand is?
Ask yourself if you need such rigid brand guidelines. People don’t establish brand guidelines for themselves. Yes, perhaps you need a recognizable logo, perhaps you want your graphics to be consistent, but in terms of the identity of a brand, allow it the complex and multifaceted character of your potential customers.
We’re certainly not advocating to pose as a person and fool your audience. But rather consider being a brand that embodies the identity of a person that your potential customers actually like. Advocate for causes, have a sense of humor, convey compassion. These are the things that resonate within the platform landscape. Let your brand be someone you like.
In dialogue with community
A company can’t necessarily be part of a community. However a person representing the company can; and you want to empower someone within your organization to speak for your company, to embody your company identity on platforms.
The way platform marketing works is that you are in dialogue with the community. So if every time you wanted to contribute to the conversation you had to send your messaging up the corporate flagpole to get approval, you are going to either sound flat, faint, or late within that community. We like people who are bold, who are kind, who are risk-takers, who stand up for others, who are funny, who are fallible and can own their missteps, who can admit when they are wrong, who have our best interests in mind, who advance ideas, who know that all ships rise and to take steps to stamp out injustices that resist that idea. In other words, the people we like are typically antithetical to corporate America. And by a brand being more like a person within these communities, the brand now has a societal responsibility to those communities.
Does a brand reflecting the qualities of a person actually make them a person? Well, no. But it doesn’t mean a brand can’t stand by what this identity establishes. By virtue of being a brand, audiences know that you are trying to sell them something, so you don’t have to hide that fact. But if the brand’s presence within a community is additive (as we discussed in PART 4) then that community will reward the brand.
Brands need to do homework and make sure they become part of the right communities. Demographics and market research aren’t thrown by the wayside in this scenario. But once you are in those communities remember that you are in dialogue with your potential customers, not in an active state of pushing your product. The healthier that community, and the more supportive you are of it, the better your brand does in the end.
Your brand is in a position to command marketing dollars, something that most of the individuals in those communities cannot. So you can create content that they cannot, and that is fundamentally a brand’s value on any given platform.
The emphasis can be less about single, large-scale tentpole pieces of content (though those are always good for the community, after all, who doesn’t like their friend to throw a huge party), and more about persistent presence in the daily lives of members of the community.
The exciting thing about frequent, small-scale presence is that it is a way for your brand to be highly experimental with content. The thing about social media is that content is consumed so quickly, and tastes evolve at a breakneck speed. If your brand can rapidly prototype different kinds of content, be very creative and push the boundaries, then you are also helping define tastes and attitudes. If a particular piece of content falls flat, that’s fine. It’ll get washed away in the great content deluge. Learn from the experience and move on. The more small-scale content you create, the more (A) you will be a persistent presence, and (B) your content will innovate at the same rate as your community. After all, as we discussed in the previous article about community, you are part of that community.
And if you stumble upon something that really works, you can iterate that, and perhaps even elevate it to a big tentpole content event. In this way, all brands have the potential to be entertainment developers, but one that is highly attuned to the tempo of the community.
Our last article in this series, Part 8, is coming up next, and in it we will expand upon themes brought up in this article by delving into what a brand’s relationship to its customers now means from the perspective of social responsibility, and how empathy can play a powerful role in this new dynamic.
Cover image: Karsten Winegeart