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Business to Human: A Frame Shift for Marketers

Jamie Gordon By Jamie Gordon

A hard look in the mirror

When we talk about making brands more human, I think we often take for granted that brands look at their customers as humans (rather than “targets” and “consumers”) in the first place.

We don’t exist in the world as clusters of data points, saturated markets, or white-space opportunities. We are people who have a distinct hierarchy of needs that go beyond our category need states. We are holistic beings who seek to thrive in a world outside of our psychographic segmentation.

At what point do we finally own that the frame for what we do isn’t B2C: Business to Consumer or B2B: Business to Business, but B2H: Business to Human? We aren’t “targets” or “consumers.”

Long story short—it’s complicated but not

It’s complicated in that yes, we can learn a lot from “big data” and quantitative surveys and even from listening to enough focus groups. But if you don’t understand the roots holding up the many branches of needs, attitudes, and behaviors, then the insight you have is only valid at a point in time—as a casual encounter.

When you make a point, however, to seek an ethnographic (fancy word for “cultural”) perspective, you learn what truly motivates people and can connect in a way that helps you know how they will react to the winds of change that seem to blow pretty steadily these days. You can envision how they will evolve as humans over time and grow with them. You make a commitment that nurtures loyalty.

Excuses, excuses

Let’s presume we already agree that brands who behave more like humans perform better in the marketplace. So what is it exactly that keeps us from really digging in and understanding our customers as humans?

Let’s take a minute to refute some common excuses…err…I mean “reasons”…for not seeking deeper human insights:

  • It’s too expensive: Sure, it costs money to do cultural research, but given the technology available to us these days, there are all kinds of resources for uncovering those deep insights without breaking the bank. Not to mention, you can get very high-quality insights doing immersive work with smaller research samples—especially if you already have data like a segmentation algorithm to help identify the right types of humans to talk to. You might be surprised to find you can fund ethnographic work for as much as or less than any other standard-scope quantitative or qualitative exploratory exercise.
  • It takes too long: When you consider the fact that you would like your brand to stick around in perpetuity, does that argument really make a whole lot of sense? Strategy is a long game…and the type of values and motivation-oriented insights that you get from ethnographic work don’t have an endpoint to their usefulness. Strategy can be applied broadly and deeply to a number of initiatives across functions and thus always has potential to live on beneath the initial exploratory project. So, while it may sometimes take a couple of extra weeks to field ethnographic research, compared to a quant study or focus groups, the value goes on indefinitely. That’s because values don’t change that much over time, which means you can apply that lens to multiple near or mid-term marketing and innovation strategies.
  • People are too different from one another: Here’s the thing about humans. Essentially, we all want the same things: security, acceptance, happiness, and ultimately to feel a sense of purpose. Especially when you have a group of humans who have demographics and psychographics in common, you are going to find that they likely share some high-level values and principles that guide their behavior. The goal is to find common ground rooted in human truths whose roots run deep.
  • I need numbers: If there is anything we have learned as marketing scientists in the information age, it’s that you can measure or track just about anything. Sure, I can try to convince you that when you have deeper insights, you don’t need numbers—but we know that won’t pass muster at a board meeting. However, once you have identified the core values and beliefs of the humans who buy your products, you can most certainly track how well your brand does at driving purchase behavior based on those—among other things. We’ve even got something up our sleeve at SCOUT coming soon to help you make the case with data.

Be the change by being more human

At SCOUT, we use our Human Brand Method to help our clients make their brands grow by making meaningful connections. Here is a quick summary of some fundamental steps to help you reframe your marketing strategy journey: 

  • Start with “why” by understanding commonly held values—see the whole human to make connections to purchase motivation.
  • Connect your brand’s purpose and positioning to those values—chances are, the authentic opportunity is already in there.
  • Tell a good story—a great narrative is the best way to make an empathetic connection, rooted in the archetypes, conflicts, and human truths embodied by your brand.
  • Walk the walk—allow your brand’s behavior out in the world to mirror those values and demonstrate your commitment to the humans who buy your products.
  • Be accountable—make a point to check in and measure how well you are living up to your commitment.

This isn’t so much rocket science as it is basic human nature. When you dig beneath the surface, you ultimately find a treasure. In this case, seeking first to understand before trying to be understood puts emotional currency in the bank and sets you on a journey toward brand loyalty that also infuses the work we do with a true sense of purpose.

Be brave. Be more human.