THE BLOG
09/15/2014 04:08 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2014

Humanize Your Brand to Drive Visibility And Create Loyal Consumers

The advent of the digital marketplace has provided brands and their products accessibility like never before, and has made it possible for consumers to communicate with a brand anywhere, at any time. But it's also limited the peer-to-peer connection that we, as humans, crave; a connection that often extends far beyond personal relationships into the relationships we develop with brands.

Bazaarvoice's 2014 Social Media Trends Report further explores what it means to be a true partner, not simply a vendor, to customers. Gathered from the insights shared by some of the world's most innovative social strategists and marketing thought leaders during the 7th annual Bazaarvoice Summit, the four tips below speak to the various ways brands can humanize their online presence and allow for a true connection that is often lost in today's digital marketplace.

Use data appropriately. Every single thing we do online today serves as a data point, and each of those points combine to create a detailed representation of an online consumer. Brands can glean an incredible amount of useful customer data through analysis of online habits that can then help inform marketing and sales decisions. And customers have become increasingly willing to share that data, so long as they trust the brand and believe their information will be used to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and develop an increasingly personalized relationship.

Be authentic in all communication. Relationships are formed on elements like mutual interest and the exchange of relevant, valuable information -- precisely why product reviews are so influential to both consumers and businesses. However, a relationship is meaningless if it isn't based on trust. The actions of a minority have raised our attention to the industry-wide challenges around trustworthy content and conversations. Bazaarvoice's own research shows that 70 percent of consumers question the trustworthiness of reviews online. The solution? Consumers want to associate with businesses that cultivate an authentic reputation -- part of which is established by displaying (and responding to) both positive and negative reviews. Negative reviews, in particular, provide an opportunity for brands to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and authenticity, and convey a more human side. Brands can also implement an authenticity policy and best practices to help ensure conversations are unedited, transparent and free of fraud and spam to instill a deeper sense of consumer trust.

Tell the right story in all the right places. People are drawn to stories that provide a deep, personal connection, making the story a brand tells one of the hallmarks of a great experience. Of equal importance is the channel in which the story is told. Consumers expect consistency, so a brand must work to ensure that the message, feelings, content and personal connection conveyed in its story remains constant regardless of the platform used. That means tailoring the experience to meet the needs of shoppers browsing on their laptops at home as well as mobile shoppers standing in a store, with the product in one hand and their smartphone in the other. It also means weaving in the firsthand opinions of real product owners, which makes positive consumer-brand relationships even more important because they help ensure a consistent story across all perspectives.

Your compass is your customer. Customers can serve as a fantastic resource for brand insights. The user-generated content that consumers provide -- both in the form of visual social posts and written reviews -- functions as an effective vehicle for transporting honest, constructive and useable feedback that guides your brand forward, if only you take the time to pay attention. Understanding the individuals from whom you are receiving content will help facilitate a conversation that speaks directly to them and their specific needs, as well as build stronger, more meaningful relationships between brand and consumer that drive engagement, persuasion and conversion.

Collectively, the guidance shared in the 2014 Social Media Trends Report serves as a reminder that creating a loyal customer requires more than a useful or likeable product; it demands an authentic, omnichannel brand persona that invites a human-level connection. Businesses that do all these things are better able to cultivate a community of advocates who will consistently promote the brand to their networks through word of mouth. Encourage those necessary peer-to-peer relationships by interacting with the consumer across all channels early and often - respond to reviews, listen to product suggestions, offer rewards and loyalty -- and your brand will see a growth in online visibility and sales.