For medium-sized and large businesses, maneuvering a brand can be a difficult task. With more teams and stakeholders to align with, sometimes in different markets with their own local challenges, marketers and brand managers can get stuck with a brand that feels impersonal, cold, and corporate — a blunt instrument designed for mass-appealability rather than creating strong bonds with target audiences.
While this approach isn’t an objectively bad strategy, these types of brands can only achieve so much and their limitations arguably outweigh their benefits. Nowadays, consumers are seeking more meaning from brands and value the ones “that are super authentic, consistent from inside out, and have a meaningful, profound role in their lives.”
This presents a challenge for those companies whose brand is decidedly corporate. No doubt many have struggled to keep pace with smaller brands that can stay agile and quickly adapt to the latest consumer trends, while easily assuming a more human, personable touch that creates stronger bonds with consumers.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
While larger businesses will always struggle to match the agility of smaller ones, their increased resources can be put to good use to hack their brands and infuse them with a more down-to-earth, relatable identity. There are a number of key ways that you can de-corporatize your brand without completely reinventing it or engaging the entirety of your corporation’s disparate and slow-moving parts.
How, you ask? Let’s find out.
What is Corporate Branding?
In order to de-corporatize your branding, we first need to have a solid idea of what comprises such as an identity. The best way to do this is to take a look at some serial offenders — those brands that have impersonal identities and struggle to use the same tools and messages that other brands utilize to build relationships with consumers.
Facebook (and parent company, Meta) is a good example to start with. Despite being a brand that is all about building relationships, fostering friendship, and making connections, there’s something decidedly cold and corporate about its identity. The shortcomings of the brand’s primary spokesperson, founder Mark Zuckerberg, are probably a key reason for this.
But another is a lack of consistency.
Despite numerous campaigns that position the brand as a welcoming and inclusive platform that celebrates diversity — Facebook’s history of moving fast and breaking things (their motto until 2014) and the platform’s role in spreading misinformation and providing a megaphone for hate speech, is something that clashes with the benevolent tone of their branding campaigns.
Another example of a brand with a corporate identity that fails to connect with consumers is games publisher Electronic Arts. Criticism of this brand is so intense that it actually has its own Wikipedia page — but the brand’s negative reputation boils down to the fact that many believe it turned its back on the gaming community and prioritized profit over quality.
So, when they try and pull off tweets like the one pictured below, rather than triggering a fun and good-humored discussion with their community, they simply draw ire from consumers who feel neglected.
Finally, let’s take a look at the branding for US internet provider AT&T Internet. Everything from the cool blue aesthetic of its logo to the tone of voice used across its comms and marketing feels quintessentially corporate. As we’ve already mentioned, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there’s a significant lack of character in its brand identity.
Consider this commercial for AT&T…
And compare it with that of UK internet provider Plusnet:
Both have very similar messages, but the Plusnet ad uses a strong sense of character to convey the values that underpin its business, what’s more, the use of location helps its offering stand out from the crowd.
So, from these examples, we can see that a corporate brand is one that lacks character, neglects community, and is not consistent in everything it does.
Let’s look at how you can use character, community, and consistency in tandem with each other to give your brand a more human touch.
How To Give Your Corporate Brand Character
It’s an easy thing to conflate brand identity and character, but they are in fact two separate things. Developing a character for your brand can be a great way to establish, exaggerate, and personify the values that sit at the center of your brand identity — and there are numerous ways to build one.
Use A Spokesperson To Make Your Brand Relatable: Finding the right person to become the embodiment of your brand can help imbue it with some of their qualities and make your brand feel more human. It might be a charismatic actor, celebrity, or public figure that lends your brand a sense of trustworthiness. They don’t always have to be famous to work, what matters is that they give your brand a human face.
Just remember, there’s also risk involved. Consider the case of Jared Fogle, Subway’s former spokesperson, as an extreme example — but remember that the actions of your spokesperson, even outside of official campaigns, could reflect on your brand for better or worse.
Start Conversations On Social Media: While brand Twitter might have peaked, brands like Wendy’s and Steak-umms have proved that developing a strong social media character can be a useful way of humanizing your brand and developing a character that embodies your core values.
Though suddenly becoming chummy with consumers isn’t recommended — as the above tweet from Electronic Arts helps demonstrated, unlikeable brands will get called out when trying to mimic how popular ones communicate with their audiences.
Your social media team should be briefed to drive discussion in a way that aligns with your brand’s values. And if they want to engage in parasocial interactions, not only do they need to be genuine, but they need to be backed up by community and consistency (more on this later).
Build A Mascot: If you can’t find that perfect spokesperson then why not create one from scratch? Primarily associated with cereal brands and sports teams, brand mascots can lend a corporate brand an instantly-recognizable character that can be used across markets.
This is something that real human spokespersons can rarely achieve. And while they’re typically child-friendly, this isn’t an essential trait.
How Community Can De-Corporatize Your Brand
Nearly every type of brand can create a community around its product or service or engage with existing communities that they’re able to serve. You don’t even need to have a particularly exciting offering.
For example meal replacement brand, Huel, has a strong presence amongst fitness enthusiasts and has even nicknamed its converts “hueligans”. It’s fostered a healthy online community where its customers share recipes, experiences, and hacks.
Building a community around your brand helps drive connections not just between your consumers and your business, but between individual consumers. Your brand then becomes more than just a product or service but a central part of a lifestyle — facilitating connections between like-minded people.
As such, engaging with these groups, listening to them, and catering your services to them can help your brand shed any negative perceptions of being overly cold or corporate. Rather than using social media to simply share your own take on the latest salty memes, by building a community you can humanize your brand while allowing real customers to be its standard bearers — rather than spokespersons, mascots, or even your own social media team.
Go a step further and encourage your audience to make User Generated Content (UGC), and you’ll have access to some of the most authentic content types possible — which can increase user engagement while also inspiring greater consumer trust in your brand, as audiences see that real people are interacting with your brand.
With word of mouth being far the most trusted source of marketing, this approach can help build a strong reputation for your brand while also helping to shed “corporate” associations.
Why Consistency is Essential for Creating A Likeable Brand
We already mentioned how Facebook’s lack of consistency creates a dissonance between its messaging and its actions, which undermines its attempts to be a relatable, personable brand. What this highlights is that consumers are not easily tricked — indeed, with only one-third of consumers trusting most of the brands they buy from, it's safe to say that most are already suspicious of businesses’ intentions.
Tactics such as greenwashing and rainbow-washing represent some of the most egregious forms of inconsistency, where brands paint an illusionary identity that simply isn’t representative of their actions. But giving your brand a warm, human face can only go so far if it isn’t representative of reality.
When a message feels like a carefully-crafted campaign designed to manipulate consumers rather than an authentic reflection of what your business and brand actually represents, there’s a good chance it’ll fall flat.
With a whole brand approach, every aspect of your business plays a role in shaping your brand’s identity. So rather than trying to repair your brand by improving perceptions — it might be more effective to take on criticism and achieve the types of positive changes that could boost perceptions of your brand — and then shout about it.
Even if your brand does represent a large corporation, there’s no reason its identity needs to be cold and impersonal. With character, community, and consistency, virtually any business can build an authentic, relatable brand.
But working out how to leverage these three Cs for the good of your brand relies on an essential tool — brand monitoring software. With a brand tracking platform like Latana’s, you can understand how consumers perceive your brand and gain a clearer picture of the obstacles that stand in its path.
With insights into consumers’ levels of awareness, preferences, and perceptions, you can recalibrate your brand identity to find a balance that’s tailor-made to fit your business.