There’s one topic that all humans are always interested in, and it’s not just the one you would think. As diverse as we are, we’re all predisposed to talking and hearing about ourselves. In fact, recent research shows that conversation about oneself actually triggers a biochemical buzz, stimulating the same brain areas that experience pleasures like food and sex.
The catch, of course, is that we’re not nearly so interesting to others as we are to ourselves, and they don’t get the same brain reward when we regale them with our own stories. There’s nothing more boring than the dinner companion who talks only about himself or herself, even if that same conversation is very stimulating to him or her, both literally and figuratively.
We’ve all experienced this with social companions, but are brands any different? Marketers are generally determined to tell the world about their product. But if we’re not wired to engage attentively to other humans talking about themselves, we certainly won’t be tuned in when it’s a brand talking about itself. A brand’s only hope of stimulating a real dialogue is to make the conversation about the listener.
Brand empathy isn’t taught in business school, and marketers tend not to learn the same lessons for their brands and products that they learned at a young age for themselves. Most brands follow their instinct and talk about their own latest news, their product features, their purpose, or their values.
Such a brand’s ads, website and social media channels may be clever, attractive, and well executed, but ultimately they are just another boring dinner companion droning on about himself.
Instead of just following instinct, brands can engage their audience much more effectively by following the same set of social rules that we use in human interactions. Here are four ways brands can make the conversation about the audience and not about the brand itself:
1. It’s About the Person, Not the Product. Most fundamentally, brand marketers must fight the urge to talk at length about the product itself, even if they have devoted the past year bringing it to market. The world is full of great products, and few people care about any of them. What people care about is how a product may positively and personally impact them and their lives.
2. Focus on Shared Values, Not Brand Values. Another related aspect of humans’ self-focus is the instinct to like others who are similar to us. Successful brands will stand for values that the audience not only cares about, but also identifies with personally. Brand values aren’t impactful if they are purely self-referential, and work far harder if they establish a sense of shared identity.
3. Make the Audience Feel Good about Themselves, Not About the Brand. We want to associate with people who make us feel good about ourselves. Socially successful brands foster the personal aspirations of the audience, as opposed to focusing on creating an aspirational brand. They create a narrative that leaves room for their audience to imagine themselves positively, and the result is a strong audience desire to associate with the brand that makes them feel good.
4. Get Them Talking about Themselves. The most obvious (and often the most successful) means to engage a companion is to ask him or her about himself or herself. Brands are no exception. In social media, in stores, or in advertising, successful brands will refer directly to their audience and solicit their own stories.
Turning the conversation to the other’s interests is not a natural behavior, but rather a learned set of social skills. We get direct and immediate feedback when we interact personally with others, and humans with strong social intelligence learn to use empathy and shared values to draw our companions in. Essentially, we learn to make the conversation about the other person. Marketers just have to remember to do the same.
Tod Frincke – Director of Strategy, gyro San Francisco
Tod’s career has been dedicated to helping brands tell their story, engage their customers, and achieve their business goals. He approaches marketing problems with both the left and right sides of his brain: humanly, analytically, and collaboratively, with the idea that the best creative work and strong marketing results should go hand in hand.
Before coming to gyro in early 2014, Tod co-led the 2012 T-Mobile rebrand strategy that propelled it to industry leadership, and he had previously built agency strategy and analytics teams at Goodby Silverstein in San Francisco and Draftfcb Chicago. Before joining the agency world, Tod worked in product marketing for Apple, Oracle, and leading retailer Safeway.