For some time, social media commentators have asserted that the ability of brands and consumers to communicate across social platforms in real time holds the promise of humanizing brands and personalizing customer service. Up until now, these assertions have constituted an equal blend of reality, possibility and, frankly, wishful thinking. But as brands and customers become more comfortable participating in social media, we are beginning to encounter new social technologies that bolster brand/customer acquaintance. Specifically, I am referring to a growing variety of mobile apps that are making brand-consumer interaction as much emotional as it is transactional. Let me give you three examples.
New advertising platform Kiip’s goal is to shift the relationship between brands and the growing legions of social gamers. CEO Brian Wong founded the company on the belief that display and banner ads were ineffective on gamers because they operated on the basis of the interruption model. Kiip seeks to reinvent this relationship by allowing social gamers to do what they enjoy most — keep playing their games — while tethering advertising to the emotional dynamics of the gaming experience. The moment a gamer reaches a milestone, such as accessing a higher level, the brand steps in to deliver a reward that feels less like an ad and more like a gift. Instead of the ad feeling like an imposition, the experience captures the customer’s attention by literally heightening the gaming experience. In this way, Kiip portends to bolster a growing movement that reframes advertising to optimize the consumer experience rather than interrupt it solely to service the brand.
Another platform to impact the brand-consumer relationship is We&Co. Launched in July, this company builds upon the Foursquare API by enabling customers to check in and report a positive customer experience. The ability to register and track a positive customer experience not only establishes a new technology-based emotional dynamic between customers and brands, but it also enables employees to measure their value to employers. In due time, with the arrival of more sophisticated applications, customers will be able to communicate their experiences with a brand or in a store — instantly. Consequently, it will allow companies to track their customer service and their employees in real time.
Finally, an app called One fosters real-time people-to-people relationships, and their ability to connect around a brand, product or service. The app makes its debut at UC Berkeley this month. Essentially, One allows users to create a profile and be notified in real time when people around them share the same interests. According to co-founders Cory Levy, 19, and Michael Callahan, 28, the application is based on a simple life truth: Many of our most important relationships are sparked when we meet people with mutual interests. “We want to prevent people from walking past each other and missing a chance to know each other,” Levy says. These common interests often center on a brand, whether a popular song, a tennis racket or a pair of trainers. As such, One give customers who share strong emotional connections to a brand the chance to connect with other like-minded individuals. In doing so, One offers brands a powerful way to strengthen their customer community and a tool to reward customers for sharing their feedback. In my view, such technologies serve to humanize brands once again, to force them to level up the quality of customer service, and to be more mindful of the emotional factor involved in interpersonal exchange. When applied correctly, such technologies can contribute to more satisfying customer experiences, and ultimately greater business profits. Perhaps most importantly, these types of technologies can rebuild brand trust by encouraging more positive customer-company interactions.