Image by Vincent Teeuwen
Why is it that we as an industry wants brands to become people and people to become brands? This manifests itself with a corporate brand online talking like a human being, but without identifying the people behind the communications. It seems like a disaster waiting to happen. When brands act like people — cursing, drinking, or making bad jokes — we pounce on them. We’re mortified for they have betrayed the behavioral norms that we expect of trusted brands.
To think that people, um, that is brands would do such things. The outrage is a result of expectations that supersede the human condition. Brands that act like people inevitably stumble.
Of course, asking people to act like brands only creates the opposite issue. Fake, shiny plastic people. Yay! But let’s not get mired in the ills of personal branding (which apparently is something our European counterparts like to make fun of when discussing American social media).
The problem with the personality conundrum is that transposing roles fails. The reality is that a brand is created by humans for humans. The brand fulfills a means to interact for a promised purpose (in theory) between people within the branded entity, and other people in or outside the organization. It is a very narrow type of communication limited to the business of the brand.
Why confuse the issue in the name of social media? There’s an old saying that half measures avail us nothing. In trying to be human, brands want to add personality to their brand palette, but in reality brands are just marketing vehicles, not people.
Personality can best be seen in a company by using the brand to highlight people within the entity. Afterall, organizations are made of and led by people. Some of the more consistent efforts online like GM Blogs and Bank of America‘s Twitter customer service take this approach, showcasing the voices behind the brand.
This, of course, requires a team approach with a greater depth of transparency which many brands haven’t become comfortable with yet… Teams are needed to counterbalance the negative effects that individual personal fame under a brand can have. Transparency is needed to trust people to identify themselves as a member of the organization. Rare is the brand management team that’s willing to do the latter, afraid of the worst case scenarios of the human condition.
Yet, when these situations occur in real life, people don’t assume that madmen engage in workplace violence or white collar crimes on behalf of the brand! On the contrary, people understand that wayward employees are really just lost souls who have crossed that terrible line we all fear. That is the dark side of the human condition.
Brand managers who cannot understand this will never be able to circumnavigate the personality conundrum. Instead they will be mired in half measures, trying to infuse personality into their brand while controlling their employees. Then when the inevitable brand failure happens serious meetings will occur to create new policies and eradicate future human outbursts.
Let brands be brands, and let people be people. By using one to highlight the other, a brand can show the human side of its company, and protect itself. In the worst cases, the brand can simply state that an employee made an error (or worse), and apologize to or reassure stakeholders. It really is that easy.