Signals: The different ways brands need to talk

The different ways brands need to talk

What have you got to say for yourself? How and when should a brand take a stand? And if you do, should you go hard or go soft? Talking is a critical part of brand behaviour.

Soft signals. Taking a stand this way is about clearly and simply stating the things that you cherish and value as a brand, in such a way that consumers have clear line of sight between what you say, what you offer, how you act and what you value. It’s positive. It’s connective. It’s constructive. It’s honest. It shows the strengths of your beliefs. Specifically, it signals your worldview. ‘We do this because …’ Or ‘we don’t do this because …’ It’s not emphatically saying we’re right or wrong. It puts opinions on the record and asks the consumer to sign up if they want to. It proves consistency.

Hard signals. What polarising brands do. They set out to set up sides and they do that by deliberately upsetting people, by getting under people’s skin, by provoking the response they want. Often they court publicity by working people’s biases – sometimes in a fun way, sometimes in a not so healthy way. They poke the finger. They call others out and signal they’re wrong. They accuse. They piss people off. It proves passion.

Both approaches work, but interestingly they work for consumers in different ways at different times. Because there are times and things we want our brands to be hard about, and times when we’d just like to softly know what they’re thinking. If we have passionate views of our own for example, we often side with brands that loudly articulate a similar viewpoint. That’s because we identify with the view they are expressing. It concurs with our own. We enjoy hearing them shout the odds. We egg them on.

On the other hand, there are times we just don’t want to hear too much about what a brand thinks. Providing they have a view that seems consistent with who they are, that’s enough. Often we feel like this about things that don’t really matter to us, or at least most of the time pass beneath or around our radar.

Brands need viewpoints. But they also need judgment. They need to know when it’s important to their consumers that they get on the soapbox, and when it is best to just have an opinion for those who are motivated enough to look.

Both hard and soft signals work, but in different ways at different times.

The same concern can call for very different stances from different industries. If you make toys, I’m very interested in your views on child labour, particularly if your products are made in some parts of the world. If you’re an accounting practice, I might still like to know what you think but, because it’s less directly relevant to what I buy from you, it might be less important to me to know what you’re doing about it.

Relevance fuels reaction. And signals expectation.

So if you do have a viewpoint that you hold to, and articulate loudly, you need to show your consumers why you’ve made it your business to get so hot under the collar about it. You need to join the dots for them.

Markets are noisy. Everyone says you need to get consumers’ attention. They’re wrong. You need to get and hold consumers’ commitment. And sometimes the best way to do that is to shout what you think from the rooftops. And sometimes you just need to show you’re true to your word, and stop there and listen.

Just like in any relationship. Both sides need to talk. Sometimes loudly. Sometimes quietly. They just don’t need to behave and talk in the same way all the time. Or else the signals jam and someone switches off.

 

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