Remember when Mitt Romney said that?
“No, no…corporations are people, my friend.”
This was during 2011, and Romney was running for President of the United States. His comment went viral, with many using it to paint him as an out-of-touch elitist robber baron. Many argue that it helped to cost him the election.
The phrase took on new urgency with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Their ruling stated that businesses had a First Amendment right, just like people, and could freely comment on and donate to political campaigns.
You may or may not believe in what Romney said. You may agree or disagree with the Citizens United decision.
But this isn’t about politics. It’s about business, and specifically your business. More than that, it’s about how you present your business to the public.
When it comes to your business, you’re a person.
People often have their first interaction with a business person-to-person. They meet a salesman. The interact with customer service. They know somebody. This is equally true in the digital world. How a business responds to a customer does a great deal to determine whether that customer leaves the interaction with a positive or negative impression.
We’ve seen many examples of businesses who’ve posted something inappropriate on social media during a time of national crisis. We’ve also seen many instances of businesses getting raked over the coals for being tepid in their response to criticism or customer complaints.
There are a few companies, however, who let their “personhood” show through.
I’m not really an outdoors person. I don’t climb, kayak, scale mountains, or do much camping. One business I follow religiously, however, is Moosejaw. Moosejaw sells everything from climbing ropes and carabiners to hiking shoes and Northface jackets. They’ve built a thriving online business, and their personality shows through.
Moosejaw started out with a few friends in a brick & mortar shop in Michigan. They all loved outdoor sports and didn’t really want to work. They grew their hair long, everyone brought their dogs to the store, and they used to greet incoming customers with a quick toss of a Nerf football.
On National Bring Your Dog to Work Day, everything on the Moosejaw website and social media feeds were taken over by dogs. Dogs in ties. Dogs at computers. Dogs with calculators. Dogs in shipping. Dogs wearing rappelling gear. Each and every post was written by the point of view of the dog.
When Moosejaw sends out emails, the subject line may read, “We’re Running a Super Cool Sale Because We Like Pickles.” You can get deep discounts on Merrell shoes or Camelback water systems, but only if you use the top secret code word “pickle” when you place your order. The disclaimer at the bottom of the email says, “If you got this email and it didn’t suck you can forward it to a friend.”
Moosejaw has cultivated an image of a business full of people who don’t take life too seriously, but take you extremely so.
Another company that’s taken “personhood” to a new level is fast food chain Wendy’s. They recently got into a Twitter war with rival chain McDonald’s. McDonald’s tweeted that starting soon, some burgers in most of their restaurants would be made with fresh beef. Wendy’s retweeted them and asked, “So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants? Asking for a friend.” It got ugly, and Wendy’s came away the clear victor.
They also got personally involved with a customer, with heroic social media points as the reward.
A young man named Carter, clearly a fan of Wendy’s, asked how many retweets he would need to get free Wendy’s chicken nuggets for life. Wendy’s set a seemingly unattainable goal of 18 million. Carter started a hashtag, #NuggsforCarter that quickly went viral. Within a short time, Carter’s post became the most retweeted tweet of all time, besting Beyonce’s baby announcement and Ellen DeGeneris’ Celebrity Selfie. Wendy’s went ahead and awarded Carter the nuggets, and donated $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation, a Wendy’s charity that helps to provide homes for kids in foster care.
Our earliest interactions with businesses were with the people running the spice stand in the local bazaar. We remembered the traveling farrier who came around annually to shoe our horses. We bought from the mom & pop store that we were introduced to by our parents. We continue to return because Bob knows just how we like our suits to fit, because Susan can get us what we need at any time of day, and because Andre fixed our car when we were getting ready to go on vacation. Our interactions with businesses are formed in large part because of our interactions with their people.
Just because you’re talking to you customers from among the over 1 billion users of Facebook doesn’t mean your business isn’t a people business.