The most successful brands (think Netflix, Airbnb, Uber) listen and adapt their voices to the situation and the occasion, just as likeable people do. They know exactly who they are.
Brands that act and feel like people tap into, and express, their personalities in interactions across increasingly varied channels of communication to form deeper, more engaged relationships. They’re making the shift from IQ-driven communications—what they want audiences to know—to EQ.
Brands with a high emotional quotient create more meaningful connections by framing their communications and experiences based on how they want audiences to feel. By adopting an EQ mindset, they’re inherently more empathetic and trustworthy.
As consumers’ trust in institutions is replaced by trust in experiences and peers, honing marketing messages and polishing images is no longer enough. Brands today have to embrace their human sides. This means not just relying on facts to inform, claims to persuade, and impersonal gestures to connect. It’s not only about being more human, but defining what type of human and embodying that role in everyday interactions: from welcoming to inspiring, teaching to supporting.
Old-school brands may embrace an informal style on their social channels but too often fall back on an institutional voice when interacting with customers in other contexts. It doesn’t help that too many businesses seem to like the sound of their own voice. Many of these brands are caught between the “people” they aspire to be and the policies and procedures that reveal their machinery. They’re too preoccupied by how they do things versus how their audiences would like to engage and consume content (if at all). This has created openings across industries—from healthcare and transportation to hospitality and entertainment—for brands that lead with a true and unique brand voice that permeates the customer experience.
How is this differentiation accomplished? It happens in the thousands of day-to-day interactions that define how people think of brands. More than advertising, it’s about the little gestures, both human and personal: how brands say hello or apologise; the dialogue surrounding customer care; the presentation of information on bills and statements; the tonality of emails and communications that address issues; how instructions are given and how feedback is gathered. That’s the real world customers live in, and that’s where they judge brand voice.
Our own research shows that most EQ disconnects occur in these everyday communications. Some imperatives for optimising EQ and creating more meaningful and engaging relationships are:
- Understand Me: When a brand connects in an authentic way, consumers feel something—protected, excited, included, validated, loved, beautiful, or perhaps most important, understood. Amazon and Netflix understand each individual user by aggregating their purchases and selections and predicting what they’ll like next. When an item is no longer in stock, Nordstrom reaches out to customers with personal suggestions based on their style preferences. And Thread, an online personal stylist, asks just enough questions at sign-up to deliver personalised recommendations for customers.
- Teach Me: The savviest brand communicators deploy educational or informative messages strategically. Consider the simplicity of the IKEA toolset and instruction guide, with its playful illustrations showing how smart their customers are with the right guidance; or the purposeful infographics deployed by British Gas on its monthly statements—which, by putting kilowatt hours in the context of everyday use, empower customers to help themselves.
- Take Care of Me: Delta Air lines knows when and where to help and serves up a free meal coupon from the kiosk when a flight is delayed. Nest offers monthly energy reports to help users save money, while Con Edison and British Gas let customers compare their consumption relative to neighbours. And Airbnb immerses customers in local cultures through the host’s local recommendations.
- Let Me Contribute: Feedback and support is another key area where leveraging EQ can deliver a competitive edge. Peer-to-peer rating systems—perhaps the ultimate discerner of quality and endorsement in our on-demand age—have helped propel the success of brands such as Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and Angie’s List. New Saudi telecom brand Jawwy—which bills itself as a “personalise-able” mobile service and whose target audience is digital natives—has developed a unique brand voice, in part by crowdsourcing customer service and support. Users are incentivised to respond to questions and help other customers in real time.
- Inspire Me (if you have my permission): Nike, with its signature “Just do it” attitude, sets a standard for fostering an energising dialogue with its customers and also finds expression via participatory experiences. But not all brands have permission to connect so closely—EQ is sometimes about being respectful of lines you can’t cross in a relationship. A brand may desire a personality that is not true to its nature or that it’s unable to deliver upon. A clever, sassy, or quirky brand personality established through slick marketing is all very well, but in today’s highly connected marketplace a brand needs to be authentic, relatable, human, and empathetic in everyday communication.
The need to achieve emotional engagement without physical presence has driven many digital brands to learn how to be powerful communicators. And the kind of human connection that drives lasting value is exactly what technology is destined to deliver: listen more, remember better, know more deeply. As tech continues to disrupt and create opportunities, the future will be defined by brands that shift from the transactional to relationship mindset, embracing their EQ.