Rafael SangiovanniRafael Sangiovanni

We call these mascots “spokescreatures.” These animated characters, talking products and other non-human brand ambassadors offer a great way to deliver a company message and can tell a more powerful brand story. They also can attract new fans to a product or brand through social media. In this always-on, socially driven era we’re living in, it’s a great way for brands to create an authentic experience with their customers.

There’s a fascinating reason for this: People want to buy into a story that they believe in. This happens all the time when we create a spokescreature. People like to play along with the illusion that they are talking to a character, as long as the interaction is authentic, unique, and entertaining or educational.

O'Dwyer's Mar. '16 Food & Beverage PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '16 Food & Beverage PR Magazine

To increase chances for success, the following strategies and best practices for creating and managing a spokescreature have come from direct experience with spokescreatures like the Mrs. Butterworth’s bottle, Vlasic Stork or Manatee Lagoon’s Mia the Manatee.

Creating a spokescreature story

Brand engagement and loyalty are about relationships, and people have relationships with those who earn their trust and engage. Spokescreatures serve as a good bridge or stand-in for capturing the spirit of a brand or company and to establish rapport. In addition, spokescreatures can interact in real-time, 24/7, providing a more immediate experience than a traditional spokesperson.

Companies that invest the time and resources to develop a fully realized spokescreature gain more control and influence on their message. The key here is to set yourself to follow through on social media’s most valued quality: Authenticity. In this case, the goal is to be genuine to a spokescreature’s personality, character and brand story.

Through that, spokescreatures then allow companies to tell their brand story with personality and interact in a fun way.

Mrs. Butterworth’s is a great example. She’s a legacy mascot, having been around since the ’60s, and her sweet, motherly personality — with just a hint of cheekiness — is a major selling point to the brand experience. At the same time, she’s very aware that she’s a bottle of syrup and not a person, and that leads to really fun, engaging content marketing opportunities.

Provide authenticity, avoid self-promotion

Even though they both represent Pinnacle Food Inc. products, spokescreatures for Mrs. Butterworth’s and Vlasic have different goals and online audiences. Mrs. Butterworth’s is a grandmotherly character who is all about family togetherness, cute pancakes and celebrating the imaginative mom. In contrast, people who eat pickles focus more on snacking than sharing mealtime with their families, and that experience is attuned to the Vlasic Stork’s witty, sarcastic personality.

Capitalizing on personalized experiences can make your message resonate even more. For example, rbb Communication’s Team Vlasic contest identified four types of pickle eater personalities (e.g., “Grill Master” and “Expert Eater”). Four winners were each celebrated with a dedicated content tab on Facebook and gifted a year’s worth of Vlasic pickles.

Successful spokescreatures create an authentic experience, and generally promote a product more indirectly. This reinforces loyalty and creates an engaging experience for customers.

Create a character that stays on message

It’s important to develop a complete profile — including the story and history of the character — to give them depth. The closest analogy is all the preparation an actor makes to get into character.

Staying true to the brand and staying in character at all times remains essential. Spokescreatures enjoy a little more leeway than traditional spokespeople; they speak from the first person, they can share an opinion and can talk about their likes and dislikes. Even so, spokescreatures need to follow defined parameters. What can they say and not say in the moment?

Despite their lighthearted personalities, spokescreatures also carry a lot responsibility. Community management remains one of their most crucial roles. Customers need to feel like someone is there at the keyboard responding to them individually, and that that someone is “really” the spokescreature. As such, there are no canned responses. When someone gets a response within five minutes and it’s in character — they know someone is putting in the effort and will buy into the narrative. It’s also a post on a very public thread, so it’s really worth the effort to do it right.

Complete the picture

Spokescreatures should be three dimensional in all aspects — tone, “voice,” how they interact and their appearance. The same way you build a brand profile, you create the look for your spokescreature. This should include the poses they can take, the way they can interact with an image or move on a page. Similar to creating a logo that can be used in multiple situations, it’s important to generate different iterations of the character. You want to create enough flexibility to have that spokescreature easily represented in different scenarios and to allow for as many content marketing opportunities as possible.

Believe in the ability to suspend disbelief

A certain aspect of human psychology and behavior plays right into the success of a spokescreature. Earlier I mentioned the idea that people want to buy into a story that they believe in. With the right execution, it’s pretty amazing how often, and how quickly, people will play along interacting with a spokescreature.

Take Manatee Lagoon’s Mia the Manatee. She represents the Manatee Lagoon in South Florida, an educational eco-center created by Florida Power & Light Company. She tells the story of Manatee Lagoon from the perspective of a manatee, which captures the spirit of FPL’s eco-minded effort and showcases the benefits to manatees in a very personalized way. Through this, Mia can reach different audiences, including educators and other people interested in ecology, and interacts in real-time with a giddy enthusiasm.

Handling customer service

It’s also important to set some parameters for a spokescreature. Some social media posts will fall outside the realm of their expertise.

We recommend enrolling your customer service team to step-in and help address customer issues. Think of the spokescreature as a quarterback in that instance. This serves two purposes: It ensures customers get help, and it keeps the spokescreatures’ role and personality intact.

When it’s right, it has might

There is no blanket, one-size-fits-all for this strategy. A spokescreature needs to fit with your brand. But when a well-developed and highly interactive spokescreature suits a brand or company, it can give your customers a great experience that keeps them coming back for more.

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Rafael Sangiovanni is Digital and Social Media Producer at rbb Communications in Miami, Florida.