min read

How brands can make friends and influence people

by Adelynne Chao , 22.01.2015

“A brand is a living entity—and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.” Michael Eisner (former CEO of Disney)

It’s 2015 and our relationships with brands are deeper and more complex than ever. Social media has given us even more exposure to the brands we love (and sometimes those we don’t) by providing a platform for two-way conversation with them.

We are interacting with brands in more ways than we used to, which means brands now need to focus even more on how they communicate with their customers. In many ways we view brands as people; they are familiar, trustworthy and we can relate to them. So just as you’d expect from a friend, a brand needs to have their own distinct personality that’s consistent across all the different points of interaction.

It’s safe to say that this is a much more challenging task than it used to be. In the past television advertising used to represent one of the biggest parts of a brand’s communication, but no longer. Now we have the internet, and mobile apps, and Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram and YouTube. Even customer service interactions have expanded beyond the simple telephone call to include email, live chat and social media support.

Brands need a fundamental approach for interacting with customers, regardless of the channel. If brands can really be seen as people then let’s take this idea a step further, using an analogy from the bestselling 1936 self-help book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ –what can brands today learn about making (and keeping) friends?

Six Ways to Make People Like You – Dale Carnegie

1)      Become genuinely interested in other people

2)      Smile

3)      Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language

4)      Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves

5)      Talk in terms of the other person’s interests

6)      Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely

One: Become genuinely interested in other people

As Dale Carnegie puts it “you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you”. This is a simple philosophy that most successful brands already abide to: building products or services with an intended audience in mind. It’s why products can fail, like the classic example of Clairol’s ‘Touch of Yogurt Shampoo’ back in 1979. It was launched despite the failure of its predecessor the ‘Look of Buttermilk Shampoo’. They built and marketed a product that did not appeal to their intended audience.

Two: Smile

A smile is the most common word in our universal language. In business, everyone has heard the phrase ‘service with a smile’ and that’s because it’s widely regarded as essential in driving customer service satisfaction. In 2012 Cathay Pacific airlines crew even threatened a ‘no-smile’ strike over a salary dispute (1), such is the power of a simple smile.

Three: Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language

Numerous studies have already shown how people are more likely to respond to the sound of their own name (as long as it’s used sincerely, of course). This thinking was behind a recent move by Starbucks to start writing customers’ names on their takeaway coffee cups (2) as an attempt to personalize the coffee-buying experience whilst generating a fair amount of publicity for the brand.

Four: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves

Engaging with customers on social media is quickly becoming a necessity, but many brands are still struggling to deal with the flood of customer comments. A study by Sprout Social claims social messages sent to brands have increased by 77% in the last year but 5 of 6 of these messages go unanswered (3). Xbox is one brand engaging successfully with social media users, recently dubbed as the ‘most responsive brand on social media’ with an average of 4,000 tweets a day (4).

Five: Talk in terms of the other person’s interests

Just listening, however, is not enough. Brands also need to be prepared to act on feedback that they receive from customers and demonstrate that they’re listening. Using the Xbox example again, backlash from disgruntled customers after the initial announcement of the Xbox One resulted in them making changes to the final model before its release. Best Buy is another example of a company with a growing emphasis on customer reviews and then implementing change as a result (5).

Six: Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely

There’s a reason why getting a complimentary hotel upgrade are at the top of travelers’ wish lists (according to a survey conducted by Ebookers in the UK) and that’s because it makes customers feel important. Brands have long been looking into different ways to engage with their most avid customers and reward them for their loyalty; frequent flyer schemes, loyalty cards, points systems, exclusive discounts and so on. It’s an effective way to retain the highest value customers.

In a world that’s becoming increasingly run by machines and automated systems, people are looking for a personal touch when interacting with their favorite brands. Some brands are already leading the way, but do any excel on all six of the above? How many of them are using social media to create value for their customers and how many are just focused on creating value for themselves? Keeping in mind these six simple rules might just make the difference between making lifelong brand friends, not just followers.

For more information, please contact Adelynne Chao, at adelynne.chao@gfk.com.


(1)      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/leisure/9737387/Cathay-Pacific-crews-threaten-no-smile-strike.html

(2)      http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerdooley/2014/09/15/starbucks-personalization/

(3)      http://sproutsocial.com/insights/data/social-business-highlights-sprout-social-index/

(4)      http://www.socialbro.com/blog/xbox-what-you-can-learn-from-the-most-responsive-brand-on-customer-support-twitter

(5)      http://www.cnbc.com/id/100792646#.