RELATIONSHIPS
Building a brand people can trust

Online audiences expect to be part of a two-way dialogue: anything less ends up being ignored. This may be down to the socio-economic climate described in The Story Behind The Trends which re-enforces people's prevailing resistance to being sold to or deceived, as well as our online landscape in which personal and immediate interactions are now common place.

In recent years people have developed a cynical attitude toward advertising and branding that has a 'buy focus', rather than a 'why focus'. A successful brand is no longer about telling people about what you do, but about people connecting with the culture of your business and why you exist.

In business, as in any organisation, a strong culture is born out of communicable and actionable values. According to Linda Ong culture-led businesses capture "gut feelings" and transform them into a mission that is reflected in all they say and do. [Linda Ong, Ad Age, 2011]

In other words, a strong brand is not just consistent colours and symbols. A strong brand is a consistent representation of an idea or shared belief.

A shared belief creates an authentic connection between an organisation and their target audience, making it easier to attract clients and drop hard selling techniques.

Organisations who take the time to develop authentic and meaningful connections are rewarded with relationships and whilst relationships take longer to build than Facebook likes and website hits, they are more valuable. The relationship between a person and a brand is one of affinity. People 'buy into' a brand when they love the idea the brand represents. A person's purchasing decisions become a statement about them and what they believe. [Simon Sinek, Start With Why, p.63-64].

Beyond building individual relationships, organisations can also look at how they can build a sense of community. Part of business communication today is about not communicating at all, but providing a space where likeminded people can get together. To some degree, users prefer companies to sit back and let a discussion take place between a mass of participants that share their brand philosophy.

Making space for relationships

Meaningful, relationship-building experiences can be found in art. One example is the phenomenally popular Rain Room (2012) created by rAndom International.

Rain Room - Random International 2012, Image © Felix Clay. Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

In the darkened Curve of London’s Barbican Centre, viewers encountered a space in which it always rains but you never get wet.

A vast wall of falling water magically parts as people walk into it.

The artists wanted to explore human responses to this unusual situation and record changes in behaviour towards the surrounding environment and, consequently, towards each other. In so doing, the installation acted as a way of evolving new and different relationships between people, and between people and the 'rain'.

Groups visiting together tried moving in and around each other, looking at friends and family through pouring rain with different effects. Many took the opportunity to comment on their companions' personal reactions, some not resisting the temptation to run fast and get wet, others making tentative steps to and fro. New connections were formed as people spoke about the sensations and talked to those queuing outside, desperate for a privileged glimpse of the experience to come.

We can learn from Rain Room's success in creating a new social experience. It is worth noting that the Rain Room experience becomes what it is through allowing each individual to self-negotiate a relationship with the installation and the people participating in it. Discussions and personal encounters within the space inform the experience, and the creation of meaning is as much shared as it is personal.

Perhaps organisations can create brand experiences that work in the same way by creating a space where meanings and interactions are self-negotiated or chosen by participants, not 100% dictated.

The potential to combine art and digital to create relationships is also demonstrated by contemporary artists.

Connecting people through co-creativity

Virtual Sunset © Tobias Klien Studios

Earlier this year, Tobias Klein Studio launched Virtual Sunset, an installation to explore the notion of sunset as a continuous global event.

The project collected crowd-sourced images of sunsets, submitted online and then projected them into a physical art installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum where audiences could physically experience the light of multiple sunset images captured from all over the world.

The project turned the sunset — what can often be a private, secluded experience — into a collective experience, highlighting peoples' relationships to one another in time and space, connected somehow through the contemplation of a setting sun.

In the case of Virtual Sunset, users of the digital platform provided the photos for the real world installation and a real and tangible connection was made between the offline and online participants.

Cultural institutions have also embraced digital solutions to relationship building. Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) has received accolades for its digital projects in the cultural arena, including W3 awards, Tellys and Webbys. The institution focuses on technology as a means to engage and educate museum-goers. For example, its steve.museum project provided a tool for the social tagging of artworks, allowing users to build a conversation around the artworks featured and the participating institutions.

In conclusion, PixInk has realised that art offers many clues as to how creativity can be applied to organisations with a clear purpose. Drawing on this insight PixInk designers pay particular attention to the intersection between online and offline experiences believing that they should both work in tandem to strengthen relationships and represent a consistent brand experience.

In summary

Brands allow people to connect with an organisation through shared beliefs and values, and participatory experiences strengthen the relationship between the an organisation and its community. Art as a locus for co-creativity and exchange shows how organisations might create delightful and immersive brand experiences that satisfy our desire to form meaningful connections.