In the content communication world, we are constantly asking “how can we better connect with our audience using social media?”
We know it can be done, we’ve all heard about a tweet that can #BreakTheInternet (thank you @KimKardashian), and some brands have over 50 million Facebook likes (Coca-Cola, Disney, WhatsApp and Nike Football for example). But what do these milestones really show? Do they mean we are effectively communicating with our audience?
The evolution of online communication has led to redefining the audience. Originally, the audience was a ‘person as a viewer’ who then became the ‘person as a participant’, before evolving into a content creator. With today’s rise of the influencer, we now must view the audience as ‘person as a brand’.
Effectively tapping into shift will allow you to enter the audiences’ personal narratives and create real connections – this is called emotional branding.
The concept of emotional branding was created by marketing expert Marc Gobé over 15 years ago. His philosophy is based on the observation that connections can take place on an emotional level in relationships between brands and people.
We all have our own narratives, it’s simply our life story. When someone, be it a brand or an individual, taps into your narrative an underlying connection is ignited as you subconsciously establish a link between you and them.
This is where social media comes to the fore.
As social media continues to lead the way we communicate online, these channels can be used to enter personal narratives and establish real connections.
Why does emotional branding work?
When a person identifies with something you instantly make a feel-good connection because the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex is activated (a brain region involved with self-definition).
Your brand needs to leave an individual feeling more than simply interested in the attributes of your brand. Rather, it must fall into an individual’s personal narrative leaving them to feel as though their identity is understood.
Over the years, Coca-Cola has used social media to establish emotional connections with its audience. Coca-Cola has 105,550,651 Facebook likes (as of August 2017), making it the seventh most popular page in the world. In a 2010 Super Bowl campaign, they partnered with Facebook to inspire fans to send digital gifts to friends, and in return donated $1 for each gift sent to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Coke didn’t have to make the donation, but the psychological gratification generated by them established these emotional connections, translating into long-term consumer loyalty.
How do we reach this high-level connection?
These emotional connections can be created by merging a personal narrative with the story of the brand by the following three ways:
A person feels more comfortable when they can instantly recognise something that exists in a new setting. For example, if you’ve started a new job and you see an old colleague, you feel relieved as you already have a common ground with someone rather than starting from scratch.
With this work colleague, you feel a sense of comfort in that they already know some things about you and they value your views which leads to building trust.
This is an interesting one. Cognitive anthropologist Bob Deutsch says to “challenge the audience’s narrative about themselves”. Here you must create a sense of differentiation between the audience and your brand, so they feel a sense of self-improvement by adding your brand to their personal narrative.
To illustrate the above in practice, Mr Deutsch uses the example of an iPhone user: “The iPhone, like Apple, is a circle, it’s smooth and it glides. It’s easy and feels good. All other phones and providers are a box; they have corners and squares, are highly structured, have many rules, and are too technical and linear. They are too corporate. The iPhone is fun and natural and lets me do my own thing, create new things, and become a bigger me.”
This is an example of how a brand (Apple) can tap into the way their audience sees themselves, appear familiar because of the brand established reputation and add to that person’s sense of identity by adding a product (iPhone) that encompasses their self-perceived personality traits (fun, flexible, modern, creative, idealistic).
Bringing it all together
Next time you’re developing your social media strategy, make sure you consider the personal narrative of your audience. Social media will be successful when your brand strategy:
- Taps into the audiences’ personal narrative;
- Tells them how your product fits into this narrative; and
- Helps them further their narrative (e.g. improve their daily life/help achieve their goals/broaden their knowledge etc.)
The key method of social media communication has moved away from telling a story, to gathering a deeper understanding of the audience and using this to enter personal narratives and establish customer loyalty.