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Practicing the art of ‘we’: A return to real life


May 3, 2012

By Robbin Phillips and Amy  Taylor

If Facebook were a country, then it would be the third largest in the world.  YouTube is the second most popular search engine behind Google. People send more than 2,200 tweets per second.

Statistics like these have blinded many marketers from the point of  “social” media. Instead of taking the time to develop real relationships with their customers, too many companies still broadcast messages at people in the continual search of the marketing holy grail: true word-of-mouth movements.

However, reports indicate that millions of Americans are logging offline for good.  They’re putting down their smartphones, silencing their ringers and stepping away from their Twitter streams — in order to rejoin their real lives.

For years, brands have been putting their eggs in various online baskets. Some were early adopters, others waited for the water to warm up a bit before they hopped in. Many jumped on the bandwagon in search of a quick fix and a magical marketing bullet.

But here’s the truth:  There isn’t a quick fix. Why? Because consumers live in the real world where real life is complicated. And real life happens offline.

Unlike the latest shiny new media tool, widget or app of the day, true word-of-mouth marketing is based on real relationships between company and consumer. It celebrates transparency, trust and community — things that can’t be bought, rushed or manufactured. 

By emphasizing the importance of people, brands are starting to practice the art of  “we” within their organizations.

An increased focus on being present in the moment is radiating through just about every facet of life — and the marketing world isn’t an exception. It can be hard work, but in order to achieve true word-of-mouth success, brands must reframe the conversations that they’re having with their customers and connect with them on an actual relationship level.

Encouraging customers to experience real life, live in each moment and embrace new experiences isn’t a marketing strategy. It’s a way of doing business — every single day.  And by loving, celebrating and lifting people up offline, brands will have a stronger, more supportive community of followers online.

Reframing the conversation

Let’s shine the spotlight on one brand not only practicing the art of “we,” but one that is also doing it well — the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL).

After a nationwide insights tour, Brains on Fire worked with NCFL to reframe the literacy conversation, and developed an online tool based on the needs of parents and teachers. Parents were not looking for resources on how to instruct their children; they needed a free and easy way to inspire them.

For NCFL, it was time to make an important pivot away from academic instruction about literacy to a fun learning experience that families could enjoy together.  They launched Wonderopolis, an online community that encourages learning through discovery and imagination. Its “Wonders of the Day” blog gives students, parents and teachers an opportunity to discover teaching moments in everyday life — whether it’s at the dinner table, in the carpool line or within school curriculums and education programs.

Through the use of videos, pictures and an easy-to-understand explanation, the blog has provided a way to make the most of every moment together by trying out an idea, creating a masterpiece or imagining the new possibilities. Each Wonder sparks the opportunity for new conversations about everything from why flamingos are pink, to how many peanuts are in a jar of peanut butter, to what ingredients would go into the next great candy bar.  With Wonderopolis, learning begins online, continues offline and lasts for a lifetime.

The future of word-of-mouth

It’s a new era, and real-life experiences connect brands and customers together in the purest form of word-of-mouth.

We need to keep in mind that by listening — and considering — the needs of the people who we’re trying to reach, we can build a community of believers and advocates that may never have come together otherwise.

Moving forward, people will begin to apply much stricter filters to the messages and marketing that they invite into their lives and wallets.  And we will welcome brands that dare to show their humanity into our lives. People will connect with brands that make them feel like friends and family rather than like customers and dollar signs.

People will start turning down the volume on brands that talk at them, and tuning into brands that not only talk with them, but who also listen to them.  The most successful brands will start focusing on real life, real people and the human experience.


Robbin Phillips is one of the founders and courageous president of Brains on Fire in Greenville, S.C. She is co-author of “Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word-of-Mouth Movements.” Follow her on Twitter: @robbinphillips.

Amy Taylor is the lead copywriter at Brains on Fire. She has written for a breadth of industries in both the public and private sectors including fashion and beauty, education, government and public health. Follow her on Twitter: @nomeatballs.



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