Full disclosure – I’m a brand research executive and skilled in what is sometimes called “empathetic listening.” This means I’m an inveterate people watcher, instinctively put myself in others’ shoes and strive to figure out what makes people tick.
I’ve been reading up on trends in UX and brand design recently and find that an empathetic approach is highly prized at agencies as various as IDEO, frog design, Landor, and BBDO. Empathy is considered an essential component in up-front evaluation of user needs and, as well, is often leveraged in creative strategy and execution. Consider P&G’s amazing new campaign for the 2012 Olympic sponsorship, “road to glory”, that recognizes the role played by moms in supporting their young athletes. In this work:
Empathetic listening drives insights that fuel creative/design strategy
Empathetic messaging is at the center of the executional elements celebrating the games’ unsung heroes…moms
To check out the campaign click here. And look below to see another amazing example of empathetic listening driving empathetic creative – part of a pro-bono campaign by BBDO for the Ad Council.
Moral of the story – empathy opens doors to human understanding and is an irresistible force that breaks down barriers and brings people together.
Here’s a surprising fact. At some point between the 1970s and the 1990s, the venerable AT&T brand reputation transitioned among certain audiences from “Ma Bell”… to “the death star.” Something similar transpired for Microsoft, which became widely known as “the evil empire“.
I’m not a corporate historian, but I know it has not been uncommon in recent years for large, public companies to find themselves similarly demonized. Think Enron collapse, Nike sweatshops, BP oil spill. Why?… generally it ties back to perceptions of company greed, thoughtlessness or incompetence. Regardless of ultimate culpability, our impressions are tightly linked to judgments about human motives underlying company behavior.
Enter the science of corporate reputation management and brand/messaging strategies designed to signal that company motives are pure, particularly B2B companies which are one step removed from public view. Here’s a sampling of recent B2B advertising in which employee voice-overs are used to create a softer, gentler company feel:
IBM – “Let’s build a smarter planet.”
Siemens – “No question is too tough for us to answer.”
FedEx – “Solutions that matter.”
Dow – “Together, the elements of science and the human element can solve anything.”
Heightened expectations for corporate social responsibility, combined with increased public transparency (internet, social media, 24/7 news cycles) have accelerated the race to put a human face on large B2B enterprises. But working to humanize the company in the eyes of stakeholder audiences has value beyond simply defending reputation. It signals the existence of a higher business purpose, one that can guide employees to do the right thing, help partners to engage in a spirit of true collaboration, and inspire customers/prospects to trust not only the product itself, but the intentions behind it. And trust is the glue in great long-term customer relationships.
Moral of the story here – if you are engaged in B2B business communications … be human, build trust, inspire custom.
The folks at Coca Cola have been busy reinventing their model for brand communications.
If you watched Superbowl XLVI you probably saw the newest round of Polar Bear ads. What you may not have seen was the live-streamed “Polar Bowl” which viewers could visit during the game on their “second screen” (read iPad). The response was stunning – 9 million people tuned into this parallel, virtual world to watch animated polar bears reacting real-time to the game.
This is not a one-off deal. Coca Cola actually has a master plan to create a new model for brand building. It is grounded in the concept of “liquid content” – ideas that are so captivating, so provocative, so contagious they cannot be controlled. Ultimately, Coke aims to evolve their approach from “one-way storytelling” to a “dynamic storytelling model” where the brand narrative is so compelling, it flows into the popular narrative and earns cultural capital.
Moral of the story – harness the power of liquid content for your brand!
The first TED conference was rolled out in 1984 in Monterey CA. Since then it has grown in size, exclusivity and, thanks to YouTube, gone viral with over 500 million virtual lectures viewed online in recent years.
One TED speaker in 2009, Seth Godin, spoke about what makes an idea go viral and become a movement. Apologies to Seth for my shorthand…you need:
A charismatic thought leader
With powerful new ideas
Passionately communicated through storytelling
To a willing audience, knit together by common beliefs, a sense of tribal identity and an impulse to spread the word
Sounds a lot like what makes for viral content in general. Several agency networks have picked up on this. McCann uses the tagline “Truth Well Told”. Publicis has elevated these concepts in their worldwide credo – Contagious Ideas That Change The Conversation.
Moral of the story – powerful new ideas about your product/service that are communicated with honesty and passion can activate the tribe and change the conversation.
Our 9th president, William Henry Harrison, won by a landslide in 1840. His campaign was the first-ever to use a campaign slogan – “Tippycanoe and Tyler Too.” There were buttons, posters, pamphlets, songs and copious mud slinging on both sides, just like the modern campaigns we know and love today. But here’s that fascinating part – it was an inside joke that propelled him to office.
Opposition newspapers accused him of being too old for the presidency and suggested, “Give him a barrel of hard cider and … a pension … and he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin.” Harrison realized this was an insult to the majority of voters and he gleefully transformed this slur into an inside joke. He poked endless fun at the “patrician snobs” sitting in Washington who drank fine wine while honest men drank cider. His team organized “log cabin raising” events in most major cities to rally the agrarian base. And his entourage shared barrels of hard cider at every speech and whistle-stop. He won by a landslide.
Moral of the story – be as one with your base. Build trust with stakeholders by demonstrating you are “of the tribe” through thought, word, action, and humor!
Quick – what make of car are you looking at? No, it’s not the new Mercedes GLK model as I thought today when pulling up behind it at a stop light. It’s the 2012 Nissan Quest.
This car seriously overhangs the market in the design department. It’s got features I’ve either never seen before, or have only just begun to see on the street. Things like radically sloping front hood, massive logos peaking out from the grill, front and rear brake lights that look suspiciously like bug eyes. Fasten your seat belts, another design revolution is underway and I for one am lost in America. Some design elements are absorbed into a shared vernacular. Others become distinctive brand identifiers – to name a few old and new:
Floor mounted ignition/key (Saab)
Rear mounted engine (original Bug)
Side panels that look like shark gills (Land Rover)
Headlights designed to look like owl eyes (BMW)
Headlight frames with a row of mini lights stretched to look like eyelashes (Audi)
Moral of the story – automobile designs come and go like hemlines, but some design elements stick in popular consciousness and come to define specific brands. For better or for worse, it’s all a matter of personal taste and tribal identity…but that’s for another post!
I'm Dave Nemiah - a brand insights & strategy exec who delights in uncovering hidden (or simply overlooked) drivers of consumer behavior. This blog is a holding pen for raw insights into human nature & impulse that I stumble on during the course of my day.