Who are you?
Don’t give us your name, that’s the textbook answer.
Don’t know? Okay, try this… what are you? A human being? You sure? What does that mean? What does it mean to be human?
You see, that’s the question. And, given all the evidence on display day after day after day, across every form of media available to us… we’ve all forgotten. Or maybe we never knew in the first place.
Forever it seems—well, at least since somebody first developed a computer—people have been trying to create humans out of machinery. Robotics are the bomb, it seems. They’re what’s going to save us…we hope. How else are we going to get those damn supply chains working again?
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are helping man get closer to creating humans without having to go through pregnancy. Or feed or provide healthcare for someone.
The goal is impressive, no doubt, as is our progress to date. Just ask any number of industries.
What’s sad is that we’re cheating. Lowering the standards. Moving the fences in.
How so, you ask? We’re dumbing ourselves down. Turning ourselves into robots. We force every issue into a binary question. You’re either pro-this or anti-that. Republican or Democrat. Capitalist or Socialist.
A one or a zero.
In the marketing and advertising world, we like to tell business owners they need to humanize their brands. We talk about it ad nauseam. Just type “humanizing your brand” into your favorite search engine and see what comes up. In less than a second, you’ll get millions of links to articles and blog posts whose authors are all pretty much echoing each other. Repeating the same clichés and recommending the same tactics championed by all the marketing wizards who’ve come before them.
They’re not wrong. You likely do need to humanize your brand. If only we all understood what being human really means. But we’ll start here: You brand needs to feel. Your brand needs to care about something. Believe in something. Stand for something. Have compassion. Want to help. Want to share. Love a little. Hurt a little.
Your brand needs to feel.
Methods in Humanization
First, let’s take a quick step and make sure we all understand what the brand is. And if you don’t know already, it’s not the company name, your logo or tagline. Your brand is the perception your various audiences have of you. And that’s true whether you make soft drinks, hard plastics, upscale shoes or downhole tools.
Which brings us to the next key point: you don’t own your brand. At most, you’re in a partnership with your various audiences. Do you think your fans—current and potential customers, vendors, suppliers, stockholders, etc.—want to be partners with a robot or some faceless corporate entity? Of course not.
They want a relationship with someone they think is smart, funny, honest, cool, talented, trustworthy, compassionate, helpful, or better still, a combination of several or all those things. In other words, someone they like. That’s why you’d want to humanize your brand. So how do you make your brand more human?
Give it human characteristics.
You’ll recall when Apple had this easy-going, smart young guy personify Mac, while having a somewhat less “cool-seeming” guy embody the PC. If computers were people, this is who they’d be. Which would you want to work-play-create-game-explore-discover with?
IBM doesn’t just offer AI, it introduces you to Watson. M.D. Anderson flips things a bit, turning a disease into something you can talk to, threaten and, eventually, kick its backside.
As the customers, we’re no longer relegated to comparison shopping product specs. We can develop feelings for these companies and products. Feelings that, they hope, blossom into a relationship.
Put a face on it.
Another tactic is to employ a spokesperson like Progressive’s Flo, that tall, deep-voiced All State Guy and Jake from State Farm. These are insurance companies. It makes sense to put likeable faces with engaging personalities on their brands, because let’s be honest, when we’re struggling to get prior authorization for a hip replacement or arguing whether a claim was submitted, we don’t all have warm and fuzzy feelings about our insurance carriers.
To be fair, most insurance companies probably, on some level, suffer from unfair stereotyping and a lack of understanding. Making them more human is just what the doctor ordered. So to speak. Of course, it also helps to be a big corporation with whopper budgets for production and media to adequately build and sustain those personalities over time.
Give your employees visibility and a voice.
This can manifest in several ways. One is through testimonials. Let your employees be the spokespeople for the company or product. That way, your potential customers aren’t getting a sales pitch from an actor, they’re getting it from the people responsible for the company or product.
Another way is to just call attention to what your people are doing, whether it’s winning over new business, completing an important project, volunteering in the community, or even just having fun together at happy hour. The social outlets are the most common channels for this. If you’re business partners with local charities and sponsor events, social posts, preferably with photos, can demonstrate how your company, and therefore your brand, is concerned and compassionate. This same kind of content is valuable on your website, both to your customers and, perhaps just as importantly, to potential employees who’ll appreciate an employer with a heart. While these aren’t ads about your product or service, these human moments get associated with your brand.
Change your short-order cook into a trusted advisor.
This approach will take a little more thought and effort and require the participation of more than just the marketing team. There are companies in almost every business sector that simply sell stuff. Often, the stuff they’re hawking isn’t all that much different from what their competitors are pushing. In those cases, all else remaining equal, success comes down to selling price. And no self-respecting brand wants to be stuck in that battle. In such a case, humanizing the brand may involve rethinking how you sell, and perhaps how the company, or at least part of the company, operates.
For example, you could be a business that sells various analytical reports on oil fields – petrophysical analyses, 3D modeling, completion simulations and the like. Or you could be the expert counsel one seeks to get oil field intelligence, comprehensive information about everything related to a piece of property and its current and potential value. Rather than just taking an order and giving the customer what they asked for, you’re someone who’s learned a great deal about their business, where they are on their journey, what their goals are, etc. Now your brand can take on the persona of an advisor or trusted confidant, a partner in their journey.
You could have a website that sells training material for poker players. These might include books on poker strategy, video modules that teach someone how to build a bankroll or master the odds, maybe software that helps players see how much equity their pair of tens has in a particular situation. Or you could be a consultancy that assesses an individual, wherever they are in their poker journey, and then customizes a training program for them based on their strengths, weaknesses, financial resources and goals. The “things” you sold become tools you use to do this higher-level service. The brand can be seen as a coach or a school.
In either of these examples, humanizing the brand isn’t just about hiring a spokesperson or employing testimonials. It’s about developing and nurturing a relationship with the customer. The brand and the company are “interested” in where each customer is, in order to tailor solutions and product offerings to a specific someone.
Feelings > relationship > loyalty
None of this is easy. If you don’t choose the right spokesperson or attempt to portray brand characteristics that aren’t true to your company, your audiences will know. Early on, leadership needs to make an honest assessment of your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, based on what that exercise reveals, you have to decide what kind of persona or archetype the company is. Or wants to be.
That’s a process requiring a great deal of consideration and deliberation, and one made easier by a branding and marketing firm… or should we say, a helpful guide who’s walked others through it before. But it’s worth it. Giving your brand human characteristics that people can easily relate to leads to loyalty. Another human quality that translates to significant value. So as you think about that, ask yourself this: What does it mean to be human?