Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When Brands Become People

One of the interesting side effects of brands using social networking to communicate with their customers are the humanization of the formerly faceless brands. As NASA found by using Twitter to let the Mars Rover communicate with interested parties, people form an emotional attachment to what were formerly cold and lifeless objects. But what happens when those are brands, come to life?

The results are fascinating. Take a look at the "tweets" today, left. That's a conversation between, ostensibly, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue. Both are active on Twitter, letting folks know of new routes, delays, and new features. Both are typical of Twitter, representing themselves as the brand, not as individuals of that brand. Thus, to the follower, while you "know" there's a human behind it, the brand is the voice. For that reason, the voice tends to be reflective of the brand: SouthwestAir is fun loving, chipper, and relentlessly upbeat; JetBlue is suave, slightly amusingly snarky, and very much emphasizing on new features.

In this case, and it's the first I have seen, we have one "brand" directly talking to another. And not just another company; a direct competitor! And it's a public discussion for all who follow either to enjoy. This completely breaks down the walls around corporate communication and adds a whole fascinating new dynamic.

Imagine a customer who misses their JetBlue flight: they tweet to @JetBlue, asking for help. @JetBlue, replies, getting some details, finds the customer is in a market that they know Southwest Air services more regularly. @JetBlue tweets to @SouthwestAir, asking for some help to get the customer rebooked. @SouthwestAir finds it, makes it happen, and replies to both @JetBlue and the customer. Boom, the customer is rebooked on Southwest Air, having a GREAT impression of both airlines, before they even get to the airport.

There are other companies who take a different approach, allowing individual faces on their brands. Comcast Frank is one of the most famous, having been profiled multiple times in mainstream news. Frank's approach is very different: his Twitter usage is proactive, and his manner is very much different than either Comcast's brand marketing or the customer's expectations of customer service. In this case, because he's Frank, you think of him as an individual first, and a representative of the company second; as a result, personal interactions are far better and have more civil tones.

Both are great examples of how social media is transforming the corporate to customer communication landscape. It's fascinating to see the unexpected and delightful evolution. Part of me never wants to see the folks behind @JetBlue and @SouthwestAir. I actually would prefer a picture of two individuals meeting in an airport bar, with a big logo of each brand over their faces; it's how I want to think of them from now on.

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