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Making it personal: the key to building brand engagement

Consumer purchases are predicated on many things. They can be pleasure oriented. They can be status driven. They can be influenced by a sense of individuality, belonging or confidence. But more often than not, they are underpinned by a strong brand identity and tone of voice that resonates and reinforces the bond of trust.

Whether you work in retail or travel & leisure, the following hints, tips and insights could prove useful in helping you use copy and content to attract and retain customers.

An emotional perspective

According to Karen Zuckerman, CCO, President and Cofounder of global marketing and advertising firm, HZDG, modern consumers are growing increasingly wary of the ‘hard sell’ approach to advertising. “Consumers”, says Zuckerman, “[now] bring an emotional perspective to brand preference, meaning they buy what they relate to, like and trust.”

In response to this trend, more and more brands are seeking to connect with their consumers on a more emotional level, looking to build trust through personalisation and ownership. Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign, for example, which launched in 2013, made a huge splash by swapping its famous logo for popular names (Steve, Pete, Lucy etc.).

Enabling consumers to personalise their Coke experience, the campaign reversed declining sales for the company, leading to a 4.93% increase in value sales year on year, with a 2.75% uplift in UK sales alone. It also helped Coca-Cola to expand its global Facebook community by 6.8%.

Marmite has recently followed Coca-Cola’s example. Nutella’s Your Nutella, Your Way campaign and the MyWaitrose loyalty scheme have also tapped into the preference among consumers for agency and ownership in their brand interactions. A preference which is confirmed in research from Hanley-Wood Business Media, which shows that 78% of consumers believe that brands that create unique and personalised content are more interested in building relationships.

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Make it honest, compelling and clear

Personalisation, then, can help brands to establish emotional connections with their customers and build trust, which in turn engenders loyalty. But beyond clever campaigns and logo gimmickry, a strong brand identity and tone of voice are critical for those companies that want to reach out to consumers.

Tone of voice is concerned with how a brand speaks to its target audience about who it is and what it stands for. It’s not about promising the world through specious marketing spin, but communicating in a clear, honest and engaging way about a brand’s core identity.

Take Co-op Food, for instance; one of the UK’s most trusted and reputable brands. Its retail straplines, Good with Food and Here for you for Life, have always got to the very heart of the company’s ethical foundations and customer commitment. Its tone of voice bespeaks simplicity, transparency and responsibility, which translates into positive customer perception. Indeed, in 2015 a PR Week survey confirmed that, despite the turmoil that has recently engulfed the Co-op Bank, the Group as a whole is still viewed as the UK’s most ethical and responsible brand.

The promise of quality

For retailers, travel companies and leisure firms alike, quality associations, reinforced through tone of voice and brand identity, are absolutely essential. With so many companies out there offering similar products and services, successful brands must communicate quality and value as key points of differentiation.

As Rosi MacMurray, Executive Director of Strategy at The Brand Union, explains, “the most salient factor for the most successful brands is the promise of consistent quality. Whether it’s a business or a consumer making a purchasing decision, they want to be sure in this world of endless choice that their decision is the right one.”

In 2014, British Airways (BA) sought to deliver on its promise of ‘bringing people close to their destinations’ through a high-class virtual reality campaign. Using the virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, the airline produced powerful, ambient and experiential marketing that enabled European customers to ‘visit’ some of the largest US cities in seconds. The result was a campaign that reinforced BA’s reputation for high-end travel, innovation and quality experience.

Airbnb has also established a reputation for quality by making authentic connections with consumers through cutting-edge content in the form of online neighbourhood guides and hospitality platforms focused on relevance, engagement and insight.

Elsewhere, leading retailer Waitrose has reinforced its upmarket status through a dizzying and exclusive range of goods and associations (e.g. using Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal in its advertising), and through a carefully crafted brand lexicon. Even across its low-cost product line, words have been chosen to reflect the company’s high-quality ethos – Waitrose ‘Essentials’, for instance, communicates ‘urgent everyday products’ without the lower-quality associations of Sainsbury’s ‘Basics’.

Social media marketing

Of course, successful brand engagement depends not only on words and content, but on cross-channel delivery. And in a world where three billion people have access to the internet, digital and social are fast becoming the core channels for brands looking to connect with customers.

The number of worldwide social media users is projected to grow from 2.1 billion in 2015 to 2.5 billion by 2018. What’s more, 57% of consumers say they’re likely to think more highly of a brand after seeing positive comments or praise online; and a third of millennials – the key consumers of tomorrow – claim that social media is one of their preferred channels for communicating with businesses.

Whether a company’s selling home furnishings, hats or hummus, use of social media can help to transform their brand perception and performance. According to Forbes, in 2014, nearly three-quarters (74%) of salespeople who beat their quota by 10% or more said they have an excellent understanding of social media and how to use it for prospecting, nurturing and closing deals.

And it’s not only food, drink and clothing companies that are maximising their impact through social media. In the travel sector too, social media competencies, skills and strategies are starting to boost brand awareness. In particular, use of Instagram and Pinterest is helping travel companies to convey the visual richness and diversity of the global travel experience.

In 2015, The Condé Nast Traveller had 229,000 followers on Instagram and 126,729 on Pinterest, while Royal Caribbean had 86,900 followers on Instagram and 10,427 on Pinterest. These figures demonstrate the appetite among consumers for brand interaction across social platforms, and the potential for building lasting customer relationships and loyalty.

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