How Brands Are Building Personal Relationships

Chris WrenOctober 1, 20183 min

Last week, in a twitter thread that went viral, frozen-meat company Steak-Umm asked, “Why are so many young people flocking to brands on social media for love, guidance, and attention? I’ll tell you why. They’re isolated from real communities, working service jobs they hate while barely making ends meat, and are living w/ unchecked personal/mental health problems… young people today have it the best and the worst. There’s so much to process and very few trusted, accessible outlets to process it all through. So they go to memes. They go to obscure or absurdist humor. They go to frozen meat companies on twitter. End rant.”

While Steak-Umm has joined other brands in having a sardonic social media personality, some of what they have to say rings true. Many brands are finding new ways to grow a personal relationship with customers, sometimes treading into topics that are more intimate than you’d expect. And while I agree that in many cases, people don’t actually want to have a relationship with a brand, a fundamental human need is relatedness. People want to be heard and they want to be understood. Smart brands are watching what’s happening in the culture and steeping beyond their traditional roles to provide value and meaning in places and among customers who are hungry for both.

German supermarket chain Lidl has launched three pop-up café’s in Ireland (pictured) in aid of their charity partner Jigsaw, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health. As reported in Shelflife, “The Bakery encourages a relaxed environment to speak openly about mental health issues, advice and experiences over a cup of coffee in a warm and welcoming space. All proceeds from the events will be donated directly to Jigsaw. Throughout the four week campaign, 1c of every bakery item purchased in Lidl Ireland’s 156 stores nationwide will be donated to Jigsaw towards the good work that they do.”

Two years ago, I wrote about three trends regarding women that brands should watch. One of these trends explored how previously taboo aspects of femininity are being brought to the forefront of discourse. Organic feminine products company Lola has expanded its offerings to include sexual health. They’ve created a hotline called “Let’s Talk About It” featuring exclusive audio content from noted health experts and celebrities around topics that women want to talk about.

Lola tapped agency Giant Spoon to handle the strategy, campaign development, creative and media buying. Talking to The Drum, Laura Correnti, partner at Giant Spoon, says, “”Lola is a brand built on access and transparency. We wanted to highlight those attributes by creating a first-of-its-kind hotline featuring an original audio series about people’s personal experiences. Whether from the comfort of your couch or picking up a pay phone in Williamsburg, Lola has opened up the line to normalize and destigmatize conversations about sex.” The hotline received over 1,600 calls—from men and women—within the first week of the campaign.

Other brands are taking similar approaches, creating unique experiences in imaginative popups or offering ways to go beyond the sale that address the complexities of modern life. But it doesn’t always have to be big, experiential activations. Brands can start small: A webpage or social feed that might offer tips and tricks from executives to those starting their career. A founder might share cherished failures and how he or she survived them. These are low-cost and high-value ways to bring added meaning to the brand, beyond the product.

These examples show that some brands understand there’s more complexity out there than consumers can manage by themselves and are creating experiences that acknowledge important subjects while providing their customers a way to self-reflect and connect.

The world is starving for compassion and understanding. Brands can do more to fill that void.

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