By James Clifton, Group Chief Executive at MISSION
We advertising types just love disruption. Indeed, whole agency networks have been built on the idea. So you’d think we’d be cock-a-hoop right now. Nothing beats a global pandemic for disrupting stuff, right?
Well, be careful what you wish for because the pandemic has had some weird effects on brands and their communications.
There’s been much discussion about extroverts and introverts in lockdown. Weighty, well-researched pieces in journals from Psychology Today to Forbes have looked at whether working from home favours extroverts or introverts.
Well allow me to reduce 90,000 words of learned opinion into a nifty soundbite. The balance of opinion seems to be that Introverts are better able to cope with the isolation and solitude of a newly remote world. Men and women of contemplation may once again have dominance over those of action, without feeling guilt or having to fake extrovert characteristics just to survive.
There is precedent here. Sir Isaac Newton, one of history’s infamous introverts, was in lockdown from Cambridge in 1665 due to the bubonic plague, when he observed an apple fall from a tree, noticed the prismatic effect on light and developed the early theorems of calculus. Working from home certainly proved productive for one introvert at least.
But it’s not a slam dunk decision. For every Susan Cain and Jonathan Rauch arguing the introvert side, there’s a Mark Travers arguing that it’s not quite that simple and that extroverts’ sense of sunny positivity better helps them find a way forward while introverts’ inherent social anxiety is in danger of running riot in the minefield of Zoom calls and elbow bumps.
Which is, of course, exactly as it should be. After all, you don’t get many seminars from a bunch of psychologists all furiously agreeing?
All of which got me thinking about extrovert and introvert brands.
We can all think of brands we’d consider outgoing, sociable, talkative types. The kind of person who, if they were at a party, would be the ones cranking the music up to 11 and organizing an impromptu Karaoke session. Brands like Coca Cola, McDonalds, Apple, Disney, Netflix, Nike, Amazon, O2, EE spring to mind.
On the quieter side are brands like Zara, lululemon, Kiehl’s, Rolls-Royce, Costco and Pret. All brands that rarely or never advertise yet who are very successful and leaders in their sector. They tend to behave in a quieter, low-key way, allowing like-minded people to find them rather than reaching out via broadcast media. Word of mouth and consistency in delivery of the brand purpose is their preferred method of communicating.
In the early days of lockdown, every brand surely felt the shock of a new reality. For extrovert brands, compelled to keep up share of voice and with heavy media commitments, the primary task was what to say. Many opted to say not very much. We all know the ad off by heart now: “Now, more than ever. Unprecedented times. We’re here for you. We’re in this together.” It was the natural script to reach for. But it soon wears thin.
Now we’re seeing those brands adapt to the stuttering reopening of society. They can’t easily go back to their previous extrovert personas, what with reopening schools, travel bans and anxiety about second waves. But they can show how they’ve adapted their offering, express optimism and try to remain front of mind. It’s not the same brand message as before but it’s a close cousin giving welcome inspiration, reassurance and hope. After all, research has shown that people trust brands more than they trust politicians, the police or the press.
For introverted brands, they reacted by putting their heads down and concentrating on what they did best. Sure, they also adapted and retooled their offering, but they probably didn’t shout about it. At most, they perhaps whispered it, via direct or digital channels using narrowcast media to existing loyal target audiences.
Of course, there is no correct answer, only the right answer for the circumstance and the individual. Some extrovert brands surely found themselves shouting loudly into the wind. And some introvert brands will have found nobody listening, because there’s simply too much to deal with right now.
Dr. Simon Moore, CEO at Innovationbubble, the Behavioural Strategy Agency within MISSION, notes that it typically takes more to engage extroverts. More as in stronger, busier, louder, more variety, colours, and options. Just more more.
For introverts, they want information: to understand the risks involved, precision in language, and a depth that feeds their thirst for understanding.
Apply that to the brand point of view and introvert and extrovert brands will naturally construct quite different communications.
Complicating things further, there’s nothing to say that extrovert brands only attract extroverts and introvert brands only attract introverts. Most psychologists agree that the typology is not binary but a spectrum: we’re all a little bit both. Some ostensible extroverts are actually introverts furiously over-compensating. And even the loudest extroverts can enjoy a bit of quiet time.
Introvert brands may need to adopt more extrovert characteristics in the short term at least, simply to ensure survival, even if it is a stretch for them. Call it the “fake it till you make it” approach. Extrovert brands may have to continue to restrain their exuberance until customers are feeling more optimistic and robust.
For both typologies, moderating their communications to reflect the context in which they will be received is simply good marketing practice as long as they don’t lose their authenticity or confuse their brand purpose.
Perhaps we’ll all just figure that, “now more than ever”, we all need a breather, crank the music to 11 and pop that can of Bud. Even if it is a little disruptive.