As brands increasingly shift to communicating with customers online, they find a wide variety of tools available: video, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, private social networks and more. What is not always clear is what kind of content to use in this new digital world.
Businesses used to working with ad and PR firms often put too much emphasis on careful scripting. But today's networked customers aren't looking for talking press releases. Much of the most effective digital content for building brands has been filmed with cheap cameras and slight editing. But it resonates with customers because it captures a moment, a spark, something personal.
Here are four principles to keep the focus on personality as you produce content to build your own brand:
1. Offer a personal voice
Content that is personal and shows the authentic perspective of an individual is far more engaging to customers and more likely to be shared. This is why the best corporate blogs have a personal point of view -- they clearly aren't written by a nameless communications officer, but instead by an executive with a particular interest, specialty and personality. We respect the White House, but we are more interested in learning about its occupant. We admire Apple Inc., but we all line up to hear from Steve Jobs.
2. Show some out-sized personality
Every weekday, New Jersey wine seller Gary Vaynerchuk sits down in his office in front of a video camera to review a few wines and answer questions that fans have sent him on Facebook. Wearing a New York Jets T-shirt, he swishes wine in his mouth and spits into a large metal bucket as he launches into loud, spontaneous, and unedited monologues. Gary has tested wine outdoors during a snowstorm. He has tasted kosher wines for Passover with his dad. In an episode devoted to "developing your flavor profile," he tasted kiwi, paprika, buttered popcorn, a sweaty sock off his own right foot, and a mouthful of New Jersey dirt. Gary's natural lack of pretension complements his intense passion about his subject, and his online audience has grown to include thousands of new wine fans while helping his family wine business grow ten times its size in just three years.
3. Pull back the curtain a little
Every business has its public face which it shows to the world. But the most loyal (and valuable) customers are often more interested in getting a peek at what goes on "behind the curtains". This is what musical theater fans got to see on the YouTube channel for the Broadway musical Spring Awakening when it went on tour. Rather than carefully edited interviews and well-lit stage performances, the channel focused on the real faces of the cast and the not-quite-glamorous tales of their life on the road. Cheap handheld camcorders captured the cast rehearsing songs in their dressing rooms, chatting on the tour bus, and strolling the streets and juice bars of towns like Louisville and Baltimore. The core customers filled up the comments section with questions and praise for the show and lingered to watch the cast's back-stage confessionals about opening night nervousness. The site attracted as many views as the popular YouTube channels of Kodak, Toys "R" Us, and Southwest Airlines.
4. Show the face of your customer too
Like hundreds of other hospitals, Methodist University Hospital in Memphis has begun using digital media to communicate with its constituents. One of the most effective approaches it has found is letting patients share their stories and even their procedures. Shila Renee Mullins participated in a live Webcast of her surgery, speaking while surgeons cut into portions of her brain and praising the hospital's work afterward. Thousands of people watched on YouTube; the hospital's marketing department even knew which viewers followed up to request appointments of their own. By spotlighting real patient stories and experiences, hospitals like Methodist find that they are better able to demystify medical care, locate patients for clinical trials, attract recognition and donors, and recruit top doctors.
Today's networked customers are looking for a different kind of relationship with brands. They want brands that they can relate to -- whether a political candidate, a wine retailer, or a hospital where they will undergo a procedure. To build a strong brand in the digital world, be sure your content lets your personality shine through.
David Rogers (@david_rogers) is author of The Network Is Your Customer: 5 Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age. He teaches at Columbia Business School, and has consulted & advised numerous companies and nonprofits, such as SAP and Eli Lilly.