We now spend more time online than we do sleeping, and a whopping two hours a day using social media. Our ‘online personas’ are a bigger part of our identity than ever before.
Much has been written about the way we portray ourselves online - our ‘personal brand’ - being at odds with who we are IRL.
But if you’re a brand looking to connect with an audience, which side should you try to woo? The one that wants people to believe they’re an avocado-on-toast-eating 24/7 “lifestyler”, or the side that eats Coco Pops from a mug while reading celebrity gossip mags? The truth is, probably a bit of both.
Wooing the ‘personal brand’ self
This idealised (and, dare we say it, vain) persona exists in an elevated version of their real world. It follows Instagram supermodels who survive on fresh fruit and holidays to Bali, and it dreams of owning a vintage Mercedes.
Brands like to think that they can fit into this world; that people on social media are interested in what they have to say; that they want a relationship with companies. The buzzword over the last couple of years has been ‘purpose’ which brands have put front and centre of their marketing and advertising campaigns, trying to tap into this online aspirational persona by becoming one of them. The result is often a crappy Pepsi advert where a can of sugary liquid can break down social barriers, or ‘change the world’ rhetoric from beer companies, uncomfortably at odds with the founding ethos of the brand.
In his recent keynote at Mumbrella, marketer and journalist Mark Ritson addresses this issue head on:
“The combined wet dreams of marketers are to create brand love and to have some kind of brand purpose. It’s a joke. The consumer does not give a shit. They give a shit about race relations and world peace, they just don’t want massive corporations getting involved in it."
“Consumers don’t want a relationship with your brand. They want it to be there, they want it to deliver and maybe they want it to stand for a little. But they don’t want it to save the world.”
With their chummy tone, Innocent have built an army of customers by tapping into a cultural zeitgeist. Ella’s Kitchen did the same with their tone and its product, while clothing firm Patagonia has a brand story that resonates because of its founding principles. But this is the point: each brand is authentic, and their message is core to the original vision of the business. Online personas like to align themselves with brands who mirror and amplify their online beliefs; brands that make them look good.
Of course, brands can tap into this lifestyle by borrowing authority and authenticity from influencers. Influencers have a reach and a sway that brands simply don’t, and the right influencer partnership can reach millions of the right people.
Coca-Cola are past masters of this game, having built partnerships with the likes of Justin Timberlake, and more recently Selena Gomez - whose pic of her supping a Coke was the most liked Instagram post of 2016.
Wooing the ‘real’ self
The ‘real’ self is the yin to the personal brand’s yang, it steps away from the aspirational and talks directly to people’s hopes, fears and desires. The real self knows it has work on a Monday morning and bills to pay at the end of the month.
Brand are often oblivious to real people because marketers and advertising people assume the public are just like them. They’re not.
A December 2016 survey by Thinkbox shows this in stark detail. The industry is four times more likely to have used Twitter within the last three months than the general population, there is a sevenfold difference between ad people and the wider population for LinkedIn usage, and ad-folk are more than twice as likely to have used Netflix or Amazon Instant Video within the last few months.
So, how do brands talk to real people? They find them in their natural habitat and send the right message.
Budweiser did this pretty successfully with their 2015 Superbowl advert (below). It cut through the cacophony of noise surrounding the craft trend, and spoke directly to people who just like a drink without the ceremony and pompous snobbery often associated with craft.
The ad isn’t aspirational or motivational; it’s addresses something real and puts the product at the heart of the message - not a lofty ideal that attains to something grander. It may seem more pragmatic, but it’s plain-speaking and direct.
Real people want brands that do their job.
The bottom line
Deciding which ‘self’ your brand should communicate with boils down to your brand personality, values and purpose. Are you inherently aspirational, or approachable and relatable? Building out this identity is a key part of the soft power approach - using the right tone, message, imagery and design to connect with the right customer.
Identifying your target self is key. After all: brands who sit on the fence and fail to pick a side suffer from diluted and meaningless personalities that fail to appeal to anyone.
Deciding which ‘self’ you want to speak to is the easy part - the tricky bit comes in the execution, and that’s where we come in.