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For companies that do the bulk of their business online, one of the major challenges is developing a brand image that’s comfortable and relatable. And while it’s hard work, you need to make sure you’re humanizing your brand in a manner that connects with your audience on a personal level.

The internet has opened up a world of opportunities for entrepreneurs and business owners. It’s paved the way for small businesses to compete on a national or global scale, which has increased competition in a very healthy manner.

The internet has also produced a whole new business model that didn’t previously exist: online businesses. These are businesses that operate 100 percent online, with no physical storefront. The benefits are low overhead and massive reach. The major disadvantage is there’s a lack of face-to-face interaction with customers.

As an online business owner or manager, you’ve certainly found this to be true. Anyone can sell a few products over the internet, but building an online brand takes relationships, relatability, and connections. And while you might not be able to spend time in the same room with your customers physically, this doesn’t mean your brand has to be cold and disengaged. There are a number of things you can do to breathe life into your marketing efforts and connect with customers in meaningful ways.

A good brand, at least in the eyes of customers, is relatable. Customers should feel like they can connect with a brand on a personal level – almost as if the brand is a person they’ve known for years. This is what the really good brands – like Coca-Cola, Disney, Trader Joe’s, LaCroix, Zappos, and Chaco – have been able to do over the years.

While you may not have the same history or reach as some of these brands, you can enjoy the same level of relatability. It’s all about humanizing your brand through marketing – and here are some specific steps you can take:

  • Encourage Brand Advocacy

Your employees are your best resources. They are the people behind the business – the ones that make it function and give it personality. One of the best things you can do is turn your employees into brand advocates using social media.

When marketing messages come from your employees, it’s much more organic and believable. They already have influence with friends, family members, and peers, which gives you a direct channel to possible customers. Just make sure you develop some ground rules so that employees know what to do.

“When you start promoting an employee social media branding program, you need to make sure everyone knows what’s OK to share – like photos of the company picnic, your department working as a team, or news of a promotion – and on what platform/s,” social media expert Tabitha Jean Naylor advises. “Something that may be appropriate for Twitter may not be appropriate for someone’s LinkedIn page and vice versa.”

It’s also important that employees know what not to post on social media. This includes information about layoffs or internal problems, news about profits or shares falling, political content, sexually-charged content, or anything that could cause friction.

  • Use Real Pictures and Original Content

Your branding needs to be real and authentic. Nobody wants to see stock photos, generic content, and canned marketing messages. The best way to capitalize on authenticity is by using real pictures and original content. Here are some ways you can do this:

  1. Use real pictures on your “about us” page – and don’t be afraid to show personality. Not only does it feature real headshots for each employee, but it also shows a silly picture from a company dress-up day. This makes the entire company seem more relatable.
  2. Stop with the generic blog posts and listicles. If you want your content to stand out, then do something unique. While you probably don’t have the time or budget to do something like this, you certainly possess creativity. Try something new and fresh!
  • Create and Maintain a Consistent Voice

When you call up your best friend on the phone, you expect her to speak to you in a certain way. You know her sense of humor, what she likes, and how she’ll respond when you tell her something. If she were to act out of the ordinary, you would find it strange and out of character. You want your brand to be just as predictable to your audience.

Your customers need to have expectations for your brand – it needs to be familiar. You do this by creating and maintaining a consistent voice across all marketing mediums and channels.

  • Make Social Media a Two-Way Street

You have to stop using social media as a channel for shouting at your customers and inundating them with information. Social media performs best when it’s a two-way street where brands and customers interact with each other.

Thriving in a digital landscape requires more than a quality product, good SEO strategy, and carefully optimized sales funnel. If you want to make the sales the count – the repeat purchases – you have to build a relatable brand. This is done by humanizing your marketing efforts and making a point of engaging and connecting with people (not customers). If you can do this, you’ll experience your fair share of success.