Some people think it’s a sad state of affairs when today’s children can identify multiple brands on sight but couldn’t pick Tony Abbott out of a line up. But Tony Abbott wasn’t there from the day they were born, whereas all these brands were. As that child was handed to her father immediately after coming into this world, her little eyes, still stinging in the bright light of day, first fell on the Nike swoosh on dad’s shirt, the green mermaid on what was probably his seventh cup of Starbucks coffee and the name of some strange Italian on the side of his glasses. But that was nothing compared to day two, where she had her first fifty iPhone photos taken, was buckled into dad’s Holden, listened to AC/DC’s Are You Ready and then drove past more than 10,000 brand advertisements on the short journey home. It’s something we’ve all lived with for a long time but if that child was born today, they’d be entering a world where we now not only interact with brands 24/7, we also expect to be able to. With the average consumer having 29 “brand friends” in their social networking circle, brands are quickly becoming our new best friends! So what does it all mean?

In previous relationships, a monologue-focused brand would dish out one-way conversations with consumers. It was up to the brand to set the tone and decide the parameters of the conversation. However with the advent of social media and the constant advances in Internet capabilities, the rules have changed. Two-way dialogues have shifted the balance of power in favour of the consumer and brands can no longer just function – they must now have personalities and present them in new, more dynamic ways. What’s more, these personalities and their retail advertising strategies must share the same values with the customers they were once talking at but are now talking with. The brands and retail advertising agencies that are really thriving at the moment are those that have caught onto this new form of shared communication. They have successfully created emotional connections that move way beyond the traditional brand loyalty of the past.

One of the best examples of a brand totally embracing this new way of thinking, acting and talking is American cookie giant Oreo. In 2011, they began to question whether they had a personality. As a century-old brand, they and their long-standing retail advertising agency were completely stuck in their ways and had no modern social skills. After some soul searching, a complete rethink and a very brave restructure of their retail marketing and advertising, they became the poster-boy for what an in-touch, on the button, culturally aware brand should be in the modern technology-led world.

Campaigns like their famous (and fantastic) ‘Daily Twist’ and their incredibly well-timed Superbowl Tweet, were the springboard to success, helping them regain their position as one of the countries most popular snacks and grow their fan base with a new legion of culturally-connected cookie lovers. But most importantly, they were one of the first big brands to realise that if you want to talk to people, you had to talk like people. Basically, they developed a personality and one that people could relate to.

Of course not everyone is happy about the new way brands are talking with us. Some argue that brands are becoming more intrusive than ever before, especially on the very social media channels where someone like Oreo, McDonald’s and Coke are thriving. Interestingly, people who were once fans of these tactics and the brands that use them are now growing tired of the peaks and troughs that social media campaigns go through: 21% of brands accumulate as many friends, fans and followers as they can, without any strategy on how they’re going to communicate with them and why. And as the old adage goes, the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing, is saying nothing at all.

Things to consider when crafting your brand personality
Be honest.

This is one of the hardest things for brands to do as historically they were hidden behind a curtain of fear, terms & conditions and over-protective brand guardians. But humility is comforting and brands that practice it are easier to empathize with and ultimately like.

Be generous.

Building a brand, a voice and a campaign to promote them takes money! Many brands plough cash into a big initial push and then when the money dries up, so does their interaction with consumers.

Have values.

Like friendships, strong brands have values that we share. And be careful not to patronize people with them by saying you’re for or against something and then acting like the opposite is true – look at recent brands that have said they’re all for fair trade and practices yet use sweatshops to make their products. Then look what happens when that sweatshop collapses or employees start killing themselves, to see how much ignoring your values can hurt your brand image.

Stop trying so hard.

Stop always looking for praise and be happy with the friendship you have with one friend (customer) rather than always looking past them for more. As in life, you must earn your praise and respect, not just demand it!

Change things up.

Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. That’s not to say you chop and change so much that people find it hard to figure what you stand for but it took Oreo 97 odd years to change their personality and that was when they were on their deathbed. And just look at the success Old Spice has had reinventing themselves from an ‘old man’s brand’ to one of the most popular in just 5 years.

 NEVER ignore your customers.

Before social media it was easy to ignore customers and their complaints. However, there aren’t enough hours in the day to list all the PR disasters that have occurred recently from brands that are still living in the past and brushing things under the carper.

Practice what you preach!

If you do nothing else do this. There is nothing worse that a brand that promises certain things, claims other things yet lives up to neither. Remember, a brand is a promise and you shouldn’t break them.