Brand Engagement: People and Passion, Part One
Jill Nickels in Brand, Brand Design, Brand Engagement Survey

McEvoy Ranch at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Photo by Sherman Takata, © Gensler.

Brands are people; people are brands. This statement may resemble clichéd jargon, but it’s true. Here’s why: consumers actively choose brands based on personal values and aspirations, which is not so different from the way we choose our friends, significant others, spouses. This kind of alignment of personal priorities sparks real emotion and connection. And, companies don’t create brands, people do. Companies create new services, products, names, logos; but its’ customers—people—who give them life and longevity by making them a part of their own lives. This kind of engagement is emotional, not transactional. It’s all about people and passion.

Strategies to achieve that level of customer-brand engagement can be developed by any company, large or small, using social media, local events, partnerships with other relevant brands, grassroots community efforts, etc. The point is to open the door for customers to connect with your brand in ways that are authentic to you, and relevant to them. Our brand engagement survey points to an opportunity to define and articulate your values – what the company or brand believes in – and then to demonstrate through words and actions that what your customers believe in matters to you too. On the surface this might seem easier for a new brand that’s just building its presence in the marketplace than it is for one trying to shift from an already established perception. Consider Warby Parker and TOMS who’ve earned legions of followers thanks to crystal clear definitions and declarations of what they believe in. To them, business is personal – once again it’s all about people and passion.

Of course, established brands have terrific opportunities to spark emotional connections with customers, too. What’s unique about brands with long legacies behind them is the opportunity to create elements of surprise, which can spark very emotional reactions with customers old and new. Do something no one expects, with no expectation of reward. Maybe it’s showing a long-time customer that you remember their name or favorite product, or you remember something important about their life – small details that let them know they’re important to you. Or maybe it’s forging a new partnership between your brand and another like-minded brand, creating new and different, even unexpected, experiences that keep customers coming back for more.

It’s all about understanding who your client is and what matters to them, and then connecting with them on a personal level. In today’s high-tech world, social media follows or likes, online comments, or mobile app interactions are often the way we connect – even with our closest friends and family members – and these connections are often a big part of a brand’s engagement strategies. Social media and mobile technology are simply additional tools in the relationship-building toolbox. The key is to include customers in the equation to provide a sense of ownership in your brand.

In my next blog post I’ll expand on specific ways that social media and mobile apps can help brands create more personal connections with customers.

Jill Nickels has over 15 years of experience in the outdoor and fitness industry and has deep expertise around the active lifestyle consumer. As a senior strategist with Gensler, she works with companies from all industries to build brands and bring them to life at retail. Jill is a long time runner and athlete and in 2013 enjoyed completing a marathon, half ironman, and multiple trail races. Contact her at
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