Speed Dating and Brand Strategy
They’re More Similar than You Think
A few years ago, I was facilitating a focus group of international MBA students on behalf of a client. We were trying to identify new ways to build deeper initial connections with the best employment candidates. I asked students to consider what life experiences they most closely associated with finding an employer after grad school. I offered examples of transactions, like buying a home, purchasing a car, and applying for their MBA program.
“Finding an employer isn’t like any of those things,” one bold participant said, “It’s more like choosing a life partner.” And with that statement, she transformed the conversation (which is exactly what we want in a focus group setting).
This twenty-something participant went on to explain that what she sought in an organization was someone she could trust, who shared similar values, and who would “have her back” when times got tough. She said that, while it was easy to find employers to talk with, it was not always easy to get to that deeper information from them.
What she needed, in order to commit to a brand, were all things we generally associate with humans.
Her ideas resonated with the group and they riffed on them for another five minutes. If anyone had been listening, they might have thought they had walked in on a speed dating prep course.
It’s a principle that many of us underestimate — for employment candidates or any other type of brand followers. When people are initially exploring your brand, they want to know:
They’re dealing with something human — something with soul
You want to get to know who they are
You’re being authentic and willing to talk about challenges
Who you are deep down and what you value
That you’re trustworthy
Brand strategy and marketing are no longer about who has the biggest budget or the most recognizable logo. In 2018, Nielsen reported that adults were spending up to 11 hours per day consuming media of some sort. In that sea of content, the brands that stand out are those that humanize their brand position by creating a persona that is likable, relatable, trustworthy, and something worth committing to for the long haul.
We All Need That Je Ne Sais Quoi
We’ve heard it before from Simon Sinek, people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. Once you connect with a strong WHY, you can follow with HOW you’re different and WHAT you can achieve for customers. But cover your WHY first!
Saatchi and Saatchi’s CEO Kevin Roberts, in his 2004 book Lovemarks, The Future Beyond Brands, shared that to command the respect and love necessary for real customer loyalty, a brand needs to deliver a holy triad of mystery, sensuality, and intimacy.
While many B2C brands were already on board with this concept, the mid-2000s came alive with personified brands. They Made us laugh or cry, and inspired us to make purchases that made us part of a bigger WHY. And the really good brands are simply part of who we are now.
B2B brands (like parents trying to mimic their teenagers’ social media lingo) also recognized the power of pulling clients into richer experiences through sensuality, personality, and intimate experiences, too. And it worked just as well because B2B companies are… wait for it… made up of people, too.
Are you clear on WHY your brand is here and do you express that to customers?
Are you witty or friendly? Do you like adventure? Do you love local culture?
Are there people in your company who are also the face of your company?
From Awareness to Consideration in a Few Fleeting Seconds
These days, personality isn’t enough. People want you to reveal more than just the surface stuff. A prospective client wants to know what it will feel like to work with your brand. Can they trust what you tell them? Do you share similar ways of thinking? What do you stand for socially and environmentally? Will your brand come through for them when times get tough?
But how do you get all of that through in mere seconds?
Most marketing professionals know that a customer’s journey begins with awareness and transitions quickly to consideration. And while it may take many encounters for awareness to happen, that part of the journey only lasts a few fleeting seconds. That’s why your brand awareness campaigns need to elicit emotions, senses, and feelings through well-chosen visualizations, music, logos, tag lines, and all those things that will help make a rich connection in a brief moment.
And don’t forget the humans!
In Carlos Gil’s book The End of Marketing, he expounds the need to humanize your brand through the voices and faces of real people because, in the age of social media, that is what audiences want and need. Gil says you should choose someone who truly represents your brand: athletes or advocates you partner with, a customer service team member sharing challenging moments, or your CEO offering professional advice. By welcoming people into dialogue and relationships with real people, your brand becomes instantly more likable, relatable, and trustworthy.
Now, What Can Your Brand Learn from Speed Dating?
Your brand persona is speed dating your potential clients and you need to help them get to know you, like you, and trust you— fast. For years, we’ve been told that people’s attention spans are shrinking to be less than that of a goldfish, but that’s probably not the whole story.
Prezi reported in its 2018 State of Attention Report that people aren’t less capable of paying attention, they’re more discerning. We’re all better and faster at identifying who and what we want to give our full-on attention to. In the end, though, you still only have a few seconds or minutes to inspire someone to want to know more about you.
Don’t be nervous, this is why you’re the professional.
Put your best foot forward
Your prospect will make their first assessments based on your visual identity, the sincerity in your voice, and your presence. Don’t TALK about yourself. Let the integrity of your brand shine through. As you sit down, your brand needs to start speaking. Does your name pique attention? Is your logo approachable? Does it represent the human qualities of who you are? Does your tag line make someone lean in to learn more?
Open up the dialogue
Ask authentic questions and tell authentic stories as a human, not as a third-person corporate entity. Listen closely with empathy and interest. Show your audience that you see them and understand their challenges. Invite real questions, not just rational inquiry. Let their inquiry guide what you discuss with other prospects.
Go beyond the surface
The chances are that there are other fish in the sea that do what you do. Reveal HOW you stand apart, your sweet spot, and the purpose that drives you. People love passion and they love to know why you do what you do. If you’re lit up, they may want to be a part of what you’re doing, too.
Share the experience of what it’s like to be your partner
Your audience wants to know how it feels to work with you. Help them make sure it’s a good fit. Responsiveness, imagery, writing style, social media presence, and a customer-centric blog are some of the ways that you can show prospects how it feels to be your partner.
Make promises you can deliver on. Be expressive about your commitments
No, we don’t need to sign a marriage contract at the speed-dating table, but committing to sincerity, listening, service, and quality will go a long way to helping prospects trust what you stand for. And, if you’re honest about your values, they’ll know at least a few points on which you see directly eye-to-eye.
Brand Strategy for Long-term Partnerships
Clients expect more from their business partners, and brands should be happy to give them more. More substance than can be measured in a spreadsheet, more audacity to stand on a set of values, more personality than a Tinder profile.
To give people what they need in a B2B brand in 2020, we need to give people a chance to not only know us, but to like us for the unique brands we are and for the values we share. We need to build client trust and deliver what we say we will from customer experience to social impact. We need to humanize our brands. Those who don’t will be left behind.
An enduring devotee of communication design and strategy, I’ve dedicated my 40-year career to delivering outstanding brand value and client experiences. I created Verge Experience Strategies (VergeX) to help you do the same. VergeX works closely with business owners, CMOs, and entrepreneurs to identify and express their brand’s unique value. We then help them build credibility and engagement to win the loyalty of customers, employees, and communities.
Join me as I continue to explore and muse upon the evolution of human communication.