I had a wonderful time at this year’s SXSW, and enjoyed many refreshing conversations with delightfully modest people of ubiquitously great talent. In reflecting on the experience and the personal interactions, I’ve come to realize how huge the in-person, human interactions are in contributing to the perception of a brand.
Of course this applies to company brands, but I am also talking on a personal level. I know “personal brand” has a bad taste to some, but bear with me here—I’m not talking about the pretentious cliche.
You know how we’re often told not to meet our heroes? There’s nothing so devastating as meeting that figure you greatly admire in person, only to find that they are terribly pretentious and dismissive. The respect built up over years immediately dissipates.
The in-person interaction has so much weight. As such, it can be tremendously impactful when treated with care. Your internet presence and online communication with your audience plays a huge part in your brand perception, but none of it comes close to that first personal connection. It can either destroy the image you’ve built up online, or solidify life-long loyalty.
The most impactful trait that fosters admiration is humility. I cannot express how much respect I have for those who maintain modesty in light of overwhelming success. I’m not talking about insecurity, I’m talking about a profound humbleness. When you pair that with a warm smile, a kind acknowledgement, and a willingness to learn someone’s name and listen, that is gold.
On a slightly tangential note, I was quite surprised at the lack of business cards in my interactions with those at this year’s SXSW. Print is not dead, folks. I cannot emphasize enough the impact of the physical. Just like handshakes, eye contact, and body language communicate more than a dozen tweets could, handing someone a thick, tactile, lovingly-hand-crafted letterpress business card is going to resonate so much more than telling someone you’ll email them a link to your website. There were so many conversations I had where I only ever remember getting the person’s first name and now have no way to follow up or find them.
This year, I handed out stickers, thick duplexed business cards, and letterpress coasters. My lettering work is carefully produced and exudes quality, so I want the physical impression to have continuity with this. When I hand someone a gift that is a physical good, I want them to tangibly feel that quality. This is a tremendously important part of my branding efforts. Yes, I spend a great deal of money on these assets, but the return is infinitely greater. People tend to remember interactions that either involve something physical, or comprise of human interaction.
You know how sometimes you need to call customer service? When you’re using a product, you typically aren’t thinking about the product itself, or even the brand. But when you’re frustrated with something and you call customer service, you’re gearing up for a human interaction. If the representative is rude, or continually putting you on hold, it can significantly taint your perception of the brand. If you’ve ever had to call Paypal’s customer support, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s rare that I ever need to call support at FreshBooks, but when I have it’s been nothing but an absolute pleasure. They so thoroughly understand the impact of human interaction on their brand that they go to great lengths to answer your call within seconds. Immediately, you are connected with a friendly human. It’s almost magic how personable they are, because even if you were initially calling about something you were upset about, you somehow leave the call with an even more positive impression of their company and service.
Apple is another company that has a great handle on this. When you walk into an Apple store, you can count on one hand the number of seconds it takes for a real life human to walk up and engage you. Even though their job is ultimately to sell, they do it without coming across as pushy, and you get the sense that they are there to show genuine interest and provide cheerful assistance.
In summation, don’t underestimate physical interactions and don’t be afraid to invest resources into furthering human interaction. Go out of your way to not only give someone a tangible gift, but also your undivided attention. Even if they themselves don’t ever become a customer, a fan, or a subscriber, it’s very likely that their positive experience with you will result in one referral at the very least. You can’t go wrong.