‘A new type of millennial decision maker is in the ascendancy and they want you to be different.’ Discover the four types of likeability and determine which can best help your brand achieve its goals
It is well known that consumers buy from people they like. We often shop in stores or eat in restaurants because the staff give us great service, even if the prices are higher. When we buy in a business to business (B2B) context, it’s no different, except that the individual people behind the product aren’t always visible to us. This means that the brand has to do the likeability job.
Your customers make their buying decisions based on which company or brand they like the best – it’s as simple as that. This is especially important today. Over the past 10 years, there’s been a massive shift in the way that buyers in the B2B world think, act and feel about business brands. A new type of millennial decision maker is in the ascendancy and they want you to be different. This can already be seen in the gradual move away from macho, ‘alpha’ brands like Oracle and IBM, and towards ‘beta’ B2B brands like Salesforce which are more in touch with their customers’ emotions.
Popularity contests in a new era
In complex and digitised markets, such as technology and financial services, likeability is especially critical. For many years, companies relied on expensive salespeople to create the likeability factor, but today, when communications are usually online rather than face-to-face, they recognise that they need to invest in their brands to deliver a positive and friendly experience.
In the last year, the pandemic has accelerated this trend. People are buying from behind computer screens so they look for cues for likeability factors from a digital image of the brand more than ever.
In this new era, you should think of business not as a sales game to be won or lost, but as a popularity contest in which you always need to be evolving, to have a voice and to be relevant. What’s more, brand likeability is about more than just attracting customers; it also gives a structure to how you embrace techniques, such as storytelling and measurement, to drive your future growth.
So, what factors can you focus on to create a likeable brand? This depends on where your company is at, the kind of brand you have and what else is happening in your sector. Which of the following four types of likeability is the one that would most suit your brand and product?
1. Instant likeability
You know how some people are instantly likeable? You only have to meet them for the first time, and you’re telling them everything about yourself. These people have an ‘X-factor’ for likeability, and they’ve most probably developed it unconsciously.
Some companies have this too – they’re intensely likeable in an instinctive way. Maybe they simply use a choice word here and there on their website, or a piece of imagery that strikes a chord with their audience. Sometimes the effect is all the more charming because not much thought seems to have gone into it. But as these businesses grow they need to find a way of scaling their likeability by becoming more deliberate about it, much like a startup has to consciously manufacture a culture as it expands. They have to manage their likeability in all aspects of their companies: their brand image, their product design, their people and their content – without losing the magic along the way.
2. Earned likeability
This is when your brand becomes likeable over time through the effort you put into it. Your company could have a dogmatic adherence to the truth no matter how unpopular it may be. You could show an over-commitment to a cause, or challenge the status quo, revealing a passion for what you believe in above all else, like The Body Shop did.
Or, you could demonstrate an amazing level of helpfulness to people, leading them to feel reciprocity towards your brand. This is especially effective if it’s both personalised (directly relevant to your audience) and unexpected. A good example is from car-hire company, Avis, and its campaign, ‘We try harder’.
3. Compassionate likeability
When you have a reputation as a compassionate brand, it means that people see you as a company that puts its own interests second and the wider good first. You view the world through a larger prism than pure profit, gearing your efforts towards making a positive difference through the enactment of your overarching purpose. This is a likeable position to be in because it generates trust; a company that goes out of its way to help others is one that can also be relied on to treat its customers well. It has a warm and caring glow around it.
Another way to look at this is to imagine that you bump into the CEO of a company that you want to do business with and have a minute to impress them. Do you reel off your usual elevator pitch, full of buzzwords and ‘benefits’? Or do you offer them something of value? Something that would be meaningful to them as a person, such as the opportunity for one of their teenage children to do an internship in your business? If it’s the latter, you’ve hit on a home truth. It’s emotionally intelligent to apply your brand in a way that creates a valued exchange – this is what creates compassionate likeability.
4. Challenger likeability
This is when you achieve likeability by virtue of the fact that you’re the non-conventional player in your industry. Instead of going with the crowd, you’ve identified an unconscious need – something your audience didn’t even know it wanted until it saw it – and jumped into a space that’s badly served by others. You’re challenging the norm.
There’s an inherent likeability involved with being a challenger because people love an underdog, and they can see you’re committed to serving your customers above all else. By doing the right thing rather than following the crowd, and by being a trusted educator who tells your customers what they really need to know, you become a likeable brand.
You’ll have noticed that each of these types of likeability inspires trust in its own way. Brands with instant likeability prove they understand you, those with earned likeability win you over through reciprocity, those with compassionate likeability show you they care about you and those with earned likeability gain your respect.
You can also create different kinds of likeability throughout your marketing activity. Your website should create ‘instant’, your brand should create ‘earned’ (because you always deliver against your purpose and values), your customer service teams should create ‘compassionate’ and your sales teams ‘challenger’. Your job is to pull these elements together so that your business becomes unstoppable.
This is an edited excerpt from Humanizing B2B: The new truth in marketing which will transform your brand and sales, by Paul Cash and James Trezona (Practical Inspiration Publishing, 2021).