Your customers have egos and that’s great for you

“If you can connect with your consumer’s identity, you win. It isn’t your brand that matters. It’s how your brand is a reflection of them that matters. […] The future belongs to those marketers who can find a way to become a part of their consumer’s identity.”

Shama Kabani, President, The Marketing Zen Group

The concept of ego really gets a bum rap. It has been tangled up in a bunch of undesirable personality traits like egocentrism and egotism, and is most often used pejoratively, as in, “Can you believe the ego on that guy?” But even the most humble among us have egos. And the best marketing in the world leverages this aspect of our human nature without exploiting it.

Asking someone to share something about you is a request. Providing someone with a way to share something about them is a gift. The brands that do the latter have put to work the power of ego capital. Ego capital is anything that we feel will help us look better in front of others. The key for brands is to create and distribute ego capital in a way that brings others back to the source (Dan Rose calls this the “viral loop”). Let’s take a look at some of the most common instruments of ego capital.

Emotional experiences

This instrument is the most powerful, but usually the most difficult to engineer. Marketers have been trying to create emotional bonds between consumers, products and brands for decades. Those that have succeeded did so only when they learned to draw the lines a bit differently. Instead of fruitlessly attempting to conjure up direct emotional connections between people and things, they realized that brands can serve consumers by helping them experience more of what they’re already emotionally connected to—things like community, success, family, love, and of course, each other.

The team that created Intel’s Museum of Me understood this from the beginning. Visitors are invited to watch their own stories told in a beautiful, retrospective experience. As the “visual archive” of their Facebook presence unfolds, they relive good times, friendships, and maybe more. Intel is present throughout without intruding, and when the short film is finished, users can share it with others effortlessly—inviting them create their own museum, continuing the loop.

Personal insights and comparisons

This instrument shows a person unique insights about them that would be difficult or impossible to obtain on their own. When these insights are positive, people will want to share them—especially if they are compared favorably with others. Klout has mastered this instrument by making each analysis of user influence individually shareable. By choosing any of the sharing options, users are presented with a pre-populated update that reflects their “performance” against each measure, complete with a link to that analysis. Many, if not most, of Klout newcomers that click on this link will want to see their own numbers, and so the user base grows.

HubSpot’s Tweet Grader operates similarly. With rankings, scores out of 100, lists of the Twitter Elite by location, and more, it dishes up plenty of ego capital to visitors and lets them tweet their personal reports to their followers. Branding and calls-to-action make it clear who users can thank for teaching them a bit more about their social presence.

Achievements, features, and status symbols

This instrument is built to leverage a simple notion—when we win, we want the world to know. Things like Top Contributor badges, reward unlocks, etc., are used to build participation chains that keep users coming back, while inviting them to celebrate their victories with their social peers.

Foursquare, most visibly, has mastered this dynamic, but their brilliant badging system is just part of the equation. People are way more inclined to share where they are when that location elevates their social status. Just having a structured, fun way to brag a little about that exclusive concert or referral-only New York cocktail club turns our physical location into ego capital. Imagine, for instance, the simple thrill of checking into the TED conference for the first time.

Urban Outfitters has taken the idea of Top Contributors in an innovative new direction by designing entire email campaigns around photographs of some of their most stylish reviewers. The emails have led to increased review submissions, fueled by the “chance to get noticed as a true brand advocate.” It’s hard to imagine any of the featured fashionistas not sharing their inclusion in these emails with their networks; it makes them look good, which makes Urban Outfitters look good, too.

Links, lists, and mentions

This instrument is built in reverse. It starts with public recognition of someone or something, but doesn’t require their participation in building ego capital. Every time bloggers link to or mention others, they are passing along ego capital in the form of public endorsement. The person or organization that is endorsed will discover the content through pingbacks or listening tools, and is very likely to share it since it reflects well on them.

Imagine you’re marketing something to realtors. If you post a list to your blog like, “The Coolest Realtors on Twitter,” you’ll have many of these cool realtors sharing your post with other cool realtors, driving qualified traffic to your site.

Be honest, use in moderation

Ego capital is not about indiscriminately lavishing everyone with praise, or urging your customers to become self-important braggarts. Small doses go a long way. When they come to you, give them something worth sharing about themselves, but something that represents them accurately and respectfully. When you reward their achievements, make sure they’ve actually earned something worth rewarding (and sharing). If designed and deployed strategically, instruments of ego capital can be potent brand builders. How are you leveraging ego capital?

Note: Urban Outfitters is a client of Bazaarvoice

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4 Responses to “Your customers have egos (and that’s great for you)”

  1. Not only do they not *need* to make it all about themselves, it won’t work. The smart ones have survived and excelled by understanding. Thanks for stopping by,

  2. Ian-

    This is great.  Too many marketers fail to understand that they do not need to make their messaging all about themselves.  Customers want to feel a connection with the brands they choose this was a great way of relaying that message.

  3. Ian Greenleigh

    I like that, Chris–people buy trophies for themselves and their businesses, and we don’t see that as a bad thing, yet, it’s powered by ego and pride. Just like the AdAge Power150 badge on this blog, we want people to see what we’ve been doing with our waking hours!

  4. Ian-

    Good stuff.  A lot of people buy a high-end film like a trophy, or like something that they believe that their brand should have.  They aren’t buying conversions at the margin, they are buying the polish, fit and finish that we deliver for the sake pf prestige.

    When we started realizing that, and started understanding what the customer was truly buying….our prices had to be raised to keep up with demand.

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