Everyone smiles in the same language

We need a more human approach to building brands, writes Jim Antonopoulos in this guest post, which includes five key things to strive for when running a communications effort.

 

As a consumer, are you tired of seeing the same faces in advertising all the time? As a marketer, are you finding it increasingly difficult to hone in on the true essence of who your audience is, how they feel and why they should really care about your product or service?

When we’re stuck, when we can’t be bothered or when we’re trying to please and reach as many people as possible, we tend to go to the easiest option: vanilla, the flavour most people think most other people will like.

I have an interest in the diversity of audiences in the media and communications we’re exposed to as consumers. I’m not sure if it’s my own ethnic background or the fact that my inner circle of influence would rival the diversity inherent in a meeting of the United Nations meeting or Sydney Mardi Gras parade, but I do know it’s important to me as a male communications professional, father and business owner.

I believe both the mainstream media channels and big brand advertisers could do a much better job at representing Australia’s diverse population in their messages.

Our TV screens are filled with stock-photo-friendly faces and body types that feel more at home on an infomercial for exercise equipment than someone I personally would see crossing the street from Fed Square to Flinders Street in Melbourne at peak hour on a Friday afternoon.

My interest in diversity, and my passion for brand communications and media are intrinsically linked – I admit to wondering for a long time as a teen that the home owners on Ramsay Street just didn’t feel right when I looked at the home owners on my own street, growing up in Melbourne’s inner west. I would continually ask myself why the Italian family on Neighbours had to own a fish and chips shop and have links to the underworld. Where are the disabled people? The gay couples? And why (oh why) was everyone so… white?

Australians are multicultural, many are indigenous, others disabled, some are gay, short, tall, slim and not all of us have abs of steel.

Albeit, there is both local content and acting talent on television that can, and should, be celebrated – the amazing Redfern Now confirmed my confidence in our ability to tell world-class, compelling stories that are both entertaining and relevant, timely and topical.

We need to see a truer depiction of the Australian population on television and in our advertising messages as both play such an influential role in our culture – and that begins with us, the content creators, ideators and communications leaders who develop the seeds of communication ideas and bring the to life through activations, content, messaging and all manner of interactive experiences.

A human-centred approach to marketing communications places the people impacted by the messages at the centre of the effort (be it television content or advertising campaign messaging) is critical. A human-centred approach also ensures that the role these people play in our communications effort is acknowledged; referring to all as customers, citizens or consumers and assuming an understanding of their role is fraught with dangerous journey towards vanilla. Better understanding the people at the heart of the communications effort starts with a clear understanding of the role different people play when interacting with our brands. Some may be users of applications, others may certain types of customers with very specific needs – the definition is a fundamental beginning on the communications journey.

Ultimately, marketers need to arm themselves with tools, philosophies and practices that allow them to gather better insight about consumers. When writing briefs, audience descriptions, developing ideas or planning channels and campaigns.

There are some strong examples. Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ campaign challenged our own idea of who we are, P&G’s ‘Always’ campaign places women’s self-esteem front and centre and displays the power that resides in a diverse range of young girls and women. And Guinness showed us recently that a game of basketball in wheelchairs can tell a compelling and truthful story about dedication, loyalty and, ultimately, friendship.

And there are quite a few things to strive for when running a communications effort, and developing ideas that are both creative and compellingly truthful in their depictions of people giving us a more accurate understanding of who they are, how they feel about your brand, product or service and why they should care:

1. Listen and observe: a day in the life of your customer

Watching our audiences, observing the intricacies of their day and what they do before, during and after they interact with our products and services is critical. Compelling, human ideas are often hidden in plain sight, and capturing them offers a truer depiction and understanding of our audiences. Do you know at which point of your customer’s day your brand is relevant? Have you ever mapped out a typical day in their life? Have you mapped the customer journey from the moment they think of your brand to the moment they’re sitting around a cafe telling their friends about the purchase they made.

Doing this contextualises the interaction your customers have with you, it provides a framework and context for ideation and allows for a greater understanding of the emotional drivers that lead someone to interact with a brand and the drivers post-interaction.

2. Get out of the building: mobile ethnography

How many times have ideas been conceived in a boardroom or in front of a computer with assumption as companion?

We need to talk to the people who are going to be impacted by our ideas. We need to get up and get out of the building and come face to face with the people who impacted by our communications. Finding out who they are, what inspires them and motivates them. Understanding the many cultures they exist in and that surround them.

Mobile ethnography can be done by a communications team or by the customer themselves. What a customer sees, feels, experiences throughout a typical day or week is critical to understanding their influences, the diversity that exists within their inner circles their experiences and opinions. You’ll find most of this information prevalent on social media channels in text, audio and video formats.

3. Universal truths always win

Gravitate ideas towards simple universal truths that anyone, irrespective of background or ability can understand; the art of storytelling, love conquers all, boy/girl meets girl/boy, good triumphs over evil, community binds us, the human endeavour to explore, aspiration and perseverance – the list goes on.

4. Collaborate and co-create

Who says that ideas are the private domain of people with ‘creative’ in their job title. Co-create ideas with your audience to better understand their passions, pain points and what makes them tick.

5. Personas are people too

Personas are simple yet meaningful profiles that represent a particular group of customers/users/consumers based on their shared interests and motivations for using your product or service. By collating research-based insights into logical groupings based on common interests, we’re able to develop meaningful archetypal character traits that represent a wide range of people that we would normally classify based on demographic profiling. Personas go one step further by focusing on psychographic profiles based on interests, motivation for use and aspirations – gathered through interviews, observation, collaboration and other ethnographic research methods.

There are many ways to ensure media, brands, products, services and communications messages can depict a more accurate picture of the diversity and compelling nature that exists in reality, without resorting to generic applications of audience descriptions and assumptions that, in the end, surround us with generic imagery and messages that are false representations of who we are, what we do and how we feel about them.

Whatever your specific field of expertise, I’m sure as marketing, media and communications professionals we can work towards having a bigger conversation about who our audiences are and how they are depicted with simple universal truths in our executions.

 

Jim Antonopoulos has had a long passion for understanding how people interact with brands, culture and technology. He has been involved with dot-coms, creative agencies and start-ups since the mid-90s and has had the privilege to work with some of Australia’s most pioneering organisations, leading brands and individuals. Find Jim on Twitter @jimantonopoulos, and his blog.