Brand personification refers to the techniques used to get customers to think about brands as if they are living things with a personality and characteristics unique to them. Many companies have benefited from brand personification, be it through mascots or catchy advertising campaigns, but social media has opened up a new theatre for this technique. Many companies are now taking to the internet with the hope of converting a follower or a like into a purchase.
Why does brand personificiation work?
As discussed in our previous piece on parasocial relationships, what we considers homo sapiens have been on this planet in one form or another for almost 300,000 years. The span of recorded history is roughly 5,000 years, beginning with the Sumerian cuneiform script, with the oldest coherent texts from about 2600 BC . During the vast majority of that time most people only saw the people in their community with any regularity; the local shopkeepers, whatever passed for public safety, their neighbors, etc. The people you saw you depended on to survive especially in pre-history when the people you regularly interacted with helped you secure food and shelter. As such, we as a species are hardwired to care about people we interact with regularly.
Brand personification takes advantage of this evolutionary trick. By writing in the first person and engaging with followers in a less than formal way, brands hope you will start to see them less as impersonal products and more as people. With the accomplished, the brands seek to be in your newsfeed as often as possible so that you, subconsciously, begin to form positive feelings for them just by proximity.
Who does brand personification well?
One brand that exceeds at this is Progressive with their spokesman Flo. Flo has over 4 million Facebook friends alone! "Her" engagement rates, the metrics that track how actively involved with your content your audience is, is incredibly high. People may not be inclined to regularly interact with their insurance companies social media but, because the interaction is with a person, they seem to disregard this impulse when it comes to Flo.
Another great example of a brand creating a personality for itself is Arby's. Several years ago, Josh Martin, senior director of digital & social media for Arby’s, spoke at a conference where he discussed how Arby's cut through the social media clutter and gained a following. He attributed their growth and engagement to their embracing of what he referred to as nerd culture. Arby's routinely takes popular movies, television shows, and video games and uses its food or packaging to create pop culture references .
Another brand which has excelled on social media is Steak-umm which began tweeting about misinformation and science literacy during the early days of the Covid-19. A 2020 study from North Carolina University and Arizona State University found that steak-umm's content at the start of the pandemic lead to increases in brand awareness and sales. Specifically, the study found looks at thousands of tweets directed at Steak-umm and found 4 overarching trends; praise for their content, a positive shift in the view of the product, surprise that Steak-umm was sharing content not directly related to its product, and an increased desire by followers to want to buy Steak-umm products .
How You Can Benefit from This Technique
Firstly, volume is key. You cannot have your brand sitting silent on social media for days, weeks, or months, and then expect to see engagement and follower numbers jump the moment you post something.
Secondly, giving your brand a personality is key. The easiest way to do this is just to have the account reflect the person who manages it. However, if you have hired someone or someones to handle your social media for you be sure to be clear and direct about your vision for your brands "character". Create a style sheet and rules for how your account will be managed for reference.
Finally, do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. As we saw with steak-umm, commenting on news items can be a great way to increase awareness. Also, tying yourself in to cultural movements like Arby's can see your numbers grow with a particular fandom.