If you think about this for a second, I’m sure you’ll agree you are more likely to respond favorably to a thought, comment, idea, recommendation or other information that comes from someone you like, respect, want to be like and/or admire. 

The same can be said for brands. Dr. Robert B. Cialdini makes this point when he identifies “Liking” – the fifth of six principles of persuasion he outlines in his 1984 work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.* 

Reams of research show consumers are skeptical of brands for a host of reasons. It’s your (and every marketer’s) job to find a way to counter this by making your brand something people relate to on a personal level. Can you make what the brand represents something that’s viewed in as positive light as possible. Is is possible to have the brand be thought of as something that supports a consumer’s point of view and something that, well, the consumer feels is their friend. How can you achieve this? Dr. Cialdini has a few ideas. . . .

  1. Physical attractiveness. Okay, stop with the eye roll. Cialdini is indeed referring to associating your brand with good-looking people, but he goes beyond that to include beauty in all of your brand’s “touch points”; e.g., having a smart, compelling web presence, a welcoming physical (office) presence and so on. Attention to looks also communicates you care about what you’re doing and are committed to it – something your customers will appreciate if they decide to do business with you or engage with your cause.
  2. Similarity. Be like your audience. Find out what they relate to, and relate to that, too. For example, research might indicate 80 percent of your customer base cares about the environment. Make the environmental stewardship one of your core principles and share with your customers what you’re doing to “walk the walk.”
  3. Compliments. Interact with your customers on topics that matter to them. Use social media not so much to talk about how great your products are but to share your position (and perhaps your initiatives) to address issues that matter to your customers. Again, they’ll relate to you if they sense you’re trying to relate to them.
  4. Contact and Cooperation. Get engaged locally. Once you identify issues and causes important to your audience, find opportunities to connect more intimately than on the web or via an e-newsletter. Maybe it’s sponsorships or volunteering for a common cause.
  5. Conditioning and Association. “For a brand to be immortalized, it has to evolve from being a maker of products into a creator and enforcer of an ideal,” says Samuel Hum on referralcandy.com. Be about more than your products: Be a beacon or even a “safe haven” that reinforces and validates a consumers’ belief in an issue or cause. Embolden their confidence in their beliefs by allowing them to align theirs with yours.

So, take another look at these five principles that define “Liking.” Aren’t these behaviors we’d want and expect from a true friend?

Good friends support us and make us feel better about who we are and what we believe. The best brands do, too.

At the same time, there is also the risk of your BFF brand doing something you don’t like. The risk is you can create a response that not only drives a person away from what you have worked so hard to create and grow, you could activate people who were supporters to not only disavow your product or brand, but to encourage others to do the same. 

There are a growing number of examples of consumer-facing brands that after working hard to develop strong support from customers as they create a “brand community,” a decision by the company or its owners to support a specific position on a controversial issue can create significant harm and change how customers view the product.  

In 2013 two couples launched the Bent Paddle Brewing Company in Duluth, MN. The brewery was named for the bent shaft canoe paddle one of the founders used to mix brewing mash.  The founders also are avid canoers in the region, making it a great way to connect their product to something they loved. 

The company and its products grew as the craft brewing marketplace in Minnesota grew.  People in Northern Minnesota supported the beers and the brewery with a sense of local and regional pride.  Bars, restaurants and liquor stores were proud to serve and carry the beers. 

All of this changed when the owners of the company took a position in opposition to a proposed mining project in the area.  People who were avid supporters of the brewery and its beers instantly became active opponents to the products. The City of Silver Bay banned the sale of Bent Paddle beer at its city-owned liquor store. Bars, restaurants, and distributors stopped selling and carrying the product as well.  

Bent Paddle Beer has a strong support from customers in the Twin Cities, but is now a divisive issue closer to where it’s produced. While the company was successful in creating a brand the connected with people as it launched, its decision to engage on a specific side of an issue turned what used to be Bent Paddle BFF’s into a still-active opposition.

Brands need to find different ways to connect with consumers. The important reality is the closer and stronger a brand can develop a connection to an audience or part of the marketplace, there is an equal risk of creating bottom-line harm to a brand. 

*Read about the first four in earlier blogs that have appeared on this site.