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Humanizing Brands

Mark Goldman By Mark Goldman

It’s a human truth that people will forget what you said, but not how you made them feel. So it goes for brands.

We study brand theory and have concluded that the more successful brands act less like products and more like human beings. That’s why humanizing brands is what we do at SCOUT.

So how do we humanize a brand? For every client, we search for the unique thread that connects to an authentic story because brand building is about behaving, responding, and speaking like a human being. Humans communicate with stories—which is how we make sincere, emotional, and genuine connections with consumers.

An enticing brand personality matters more than a brand’s attributes. Why? Because human beings respond to human qualities. So the basic human truth of treating others as you would want to be treated also applies to brands.

We make the brand voice real—personal, approachable, and, of course, engaging. Engaging means speaking the same language as the brand’s target—no jargon, corporate speak, or sales language. This means we take brands from a transactional state to an experiential one; relationships versus conversions.

Sure, selling is important. But how it’s delivered, and the value offered, are paramount. We all remember the great Apple campaign that used two completely different personalities to speak for the PC brand and Apple. Of course, Apple was relaxed and hip. PC Man was uptight and befuddled. The ads resonated because the audience could easily connect themselves with Apple’s brand persona.

In this noisy, cluttered landscape, making a meaningful connection is more important than ever. Back in 1759, English poet and essayist Samuel Johnson wrote, “Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is, therefore, become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetic.” So, yeah, advertising clutter has been an issue for a long time. Today, we often cite a Yankelovich study that shows we’re exposed to more than 5,000 ads every day. Suffice it to say, we are overwhelmed with brand messages and choice.

And we’re just now beginning to consider the impact artificial intelligence (AI) will have on brand humanization. However, we apply AI, creating brand value will always be about connecting to emotional roots. Only when we can combine technology with deep human insights will we make the kind of “reach out and touch someone” connection to the consumer’s heart and mind. Rational thinking doesn’t have the same effect as intuitive thinking. Intuition is a very human quality.

Without a strong emotional connection to a consumer base, a brand is just a label. Great brands elicit respect, love, empathy, joy, and passion. Consumers will forgive a brand they love when a problem arises. We are social creatures, so brands that help connect us to each other are different, special, and better (to borrow from our friends at Coca-Cola).

Linda Boff, CMO of GE, believes brands must find new and unexpected ways to connect. Not connectivity, but as Verizon CMO Diego Scotti states, “connectedness.” This is what differentiates a brand from a product.

In the words of the great Harvard marketing professor, Theodore Levitt, people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They buy something in anticipation of a quarter-inch hole. At SCOUT, this has always focused us on the emotional reasons that we make buying decisions.

Lastly being a “human” brand is about openness and transparency. A recent survey by the ad agency, McCann, found that more than 40% of Americans find brands and companies less truthful than 20 years ago. Correspondingly, over 80% believe that brands have the power to make our world better. The fact is, we have too many choices and too much information coming at us all the time.

So with that in mind, let’s explore some of the things that distinguish “human” brands:

  1. An enduring, approachable brand personality
  2. A corporate culture that is open, honest, nurturing, inspiring, and purpose-driven
  3. An honest, real voice
  4. Experiential, not just transactional
  5. Social
  6. Willingness to own mistakes – it’s OK to apologize
  7. Good, responsive listeners

We want brands to embrace reviews and criticisms, and to listen more than they speak. In the end, consumers will buy brands that solve a problem with honesty, trust, and a real purpose. Companies who can make this human connection have a huge strategic advantage in the marketplace. It isn’t easy, and it’s often hard to scale. But we’re always passionate and brave enough to try.