It’s common to assume that copywriting is separate from branding. However, when you take away the logo and colour scheme of your favourite brands I’d wager that there is still something left behind; perhaps it’s something subtle but it’s undeniable that there’s something there. I would go so far as to suggest that it is, in fact, this subtle element that connects you to that brand and keeps you coming back. After all, it’s not like I drink Coke because I like their swirly lettering and the distinctive red of their packaging.
I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that identifying with a brand follows a similar process to the one we go through when forming relationships. In fact, there’s probably a very individual story that you can tell about your relationship with the brands you identify with.
So what does this mean for people who run their own business? Is your startup literally the same as a new baby? When you buy a business is it like bringing a new person into your family?
Businesses obviously aren’t people, though we treat them in very similar ways. In fact, we give corporations more recognition in our legal system and in our methods of speech than we give to some living, breathing animals.
Why do we behave like this? Brands don’t have a physical body but we treat them like people. If flesh and blood isn’t the qualifier for personhood then what is? What gives a brand a personality?
When we run a business we get annoyed when people misunderstand what our business is about. When outside stories deviate from our idea of our business we feel something has gone wrong and this can often elicit the same feelings as we would get if someone misunderstood us as individuals.
You want your business’ brand to be the story you tell about it. However, in reality (as is often the case for people too) the story that others tell about you will play a part in shaping the ‘true story’ of what your business is.
It’s this reliance on stories, this need for others to see the brand’s personality, that makes copywriting so important when you are coordinating your brand. In the past, a few negative reviews could be worked around by a good copywriter or PR representative to draw public attention back to the intended story about a brand.
However, something new has emerged over the past decade. A new environment for the sharing of stories, and this can be both a curse and a blessing when it comes to your brand’s story. Social media is public, it gives the appearance of authority. However, it is also a completely level playing field where the opinion of experts gets as much (or sometimes less) visibility than the opinions of laymen. More so than in any other time in history we are at a point where the story you choose to tell about your business can be held up directly against the stories of others.
Brand stories now have to be robust but also dynamic. Able to duck and weave attacks. If we take the old tactic of simply shouting louder (with adverts etc.) we risk the narrative being distorted. A big loud voice can paint the brand as the bully, the corporate stooge, the Goliath, just waiting for some cyber-David to take a well-placed shot.
Do brands have a mind of their own?
The upshot of social media depictions of brands is that it’s now clearer that there exists some ‘real’/objective version of your brand. This is a depiction which may or may not be at odds with the story you’ve been telling. How can this be possible? Surely we should be the ones who get the last word in describing what our business is and what it stands for?
To put it simply no, you don’t get objective control over your brand. Businesses have actually never had this luxury but now, more than ever, we can see this for ourselves.
Thankfully there’s a plus side to this. We never used to have access to word-of-mouth regarding our brand but as Scott Stratten (‘UnMarketing’ specialist) puts it we’re now in a position to be ‘part of the conversation’. However, this ‘conversation’ has an odd pattern to it.
Animal? Vegetable? Mineral?…Person?
Disney is big, bold, it has a sense of humour, and isn’t afraid to take a shot at itself. It’s also pretty clean-cut, wholesome, and straight-laced. On top of this, it also likes to sing its own praises, rest on its own laurels, and works hard to drown out the competition.
Innocent (the smoothie and juice brand) is a bit quirky, it has a cheeky sense of humour, and likes to act like it’s into health stuff (though really we know that we’re buying it because of its [sugary] taste).
Starbucks likes to make you feel at home, it’s not in your face, it likes to be seen as cool, but it doesn’t want to look too mainstream, it also tries very hard to make you forget that it’s doing the same thing for millions of different people all over the world.
Brands are organic and their stories are not entirely their own. As you can see above, the corporate message of larger brands can settle pretty deep in our minds but we also recognise the public perception as well. The marrying together of negatives and positives actually makes them more human-sounding than a purely positive picture would. Add on the fact that these entities now have social media profiles (interacting on social media platforms as though they are individual people) and we find ourselves in an odd situation: Does a brand have a mind of its own?
No fancy tech, just a good story
To put it simply yes. There’s no complex AI here, it’s just the same process that we use for fictional characters, we interact with a business account on Facebook or Twitter as though it isn’t some intern or social media manager on the other end.
We take the word of their social media account as being as authoritative as their advertisements, in fact possibly more so. When a brand backs out of something said on social media we lose trust in them. When ‘they’ say something offensive, we see the brand as the perpetrator. In short, we add the narrative together and that narrative is the brand.
Our relationships are directly influenced by interactions. On social media, brands are treated as being autonomous, authoritative, and responsible for what ‘they’ say.
You can’t avoid this situation, social media silence won’t work either. A brand absent from social media risks being seen as, at best, behind the times and, at worst, elitist (“We’re too good for Facebook” or “We don’t like Twitter!“).
It’s an odd structure but we can’t deny it. We’re at a stage now where the 3am reply on Twitter is treated with the same gravity as the branded advertising that took six months of planning and a corporate retreat to get right.
If you don’t have the right people contributing to your social media presence you might as well throw your advertising budget down the toilet. Both efforts have their place but in a world where brands are treated like people, the people behind your brand’s social media profile are your brand. The wording has to be on-point, on-message, but more than that, your brand has to be human. After all, it’ll be treated like one.