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In this era of economic uncertainty, buyer apathy and product obsolescence, businesses need to take a fresh look at how consumers view the company’s brands and what makes a brand compete better in the marketplace. For the average company, it is quite hard to achieve the level of brand differentiation that the recognizable business icons like Apple and Nike enjoy.
The key problem, according to academic researchers and industry practitioners, is that many companies have become too disengaged from their customers by relying on cost-saving, self-service technology solutions. These tend to dehumanize the customer experience and distance the firm from its buyers, causing them confusion and frustration, as happens when a call placed to a company’s toll-free line is answered by an automated voice offering a relentless sequence of vague or impersonal options.
Fortunately, technology, often seen as the bane of customer relationship marketing, may also be its savior. The rapid advent of social media tools provides a ready mechanism to engage customers, talk to them, soften a brand’s image, and present a friendly and accessible “face” to the public.
Research shows that when brands are given an emotional identity through advertising and social media tactics, consumers tend to attribute human traits to them in a phenomenon known as anthropomorphism. They may view a given brand rather like a person and describe one as “cool” and “fun,” another as “kind” and “sensitive,” and yet another as “snobbish” and “aloof.” Brands that have been anthropomorphized in a positive way have been empirically found to enjoy more favorable consumer attitudes and command higher loyalty than those that do not.
Consider the upmarket hospitality chain Kimpton Hotels. To portray a warm, friendly and empathetic brand image, Kimpton created a social listening desk, which is a panel of employees whose principal job is to listen to what customers are saying on social media and find novel ways of attending to their needs.