To build a better brand, be human

Today's leading brands are going back to the basics by becoming more human. In what brand consultancy Lippincott calls the Human Era, making a brand more...

Friday December 23, 2016

Today's leading brands are going back to the basics by becoming more human.

In what brand consultancy Lippincott calls the Human Era, making a brand more human is essential to gaining trust and building real connections with customers in a time where we're all more cynical and isolated than ever – despite being in an age of “social” media.

Being more human strengthens brand loyalty

Brands that adopt the Human Era model gain something intangible yet valuable: trust.

Your customers are human beings, and they want to interact with and be treated as such. You probably like the java at your favourite coffee house, but you go back because the barista remembers you and your order. Brand loyalty isn't just based on what you buy, it's based on the experience that you have while you are buying it.

Brands that build human-to-human relationships outperform financially

Trust in a company keeps us coming back, and it also makes us more likely to forgive them. If your favourite coffee shop gets your order wrong one day, you’ll likely accept an apology and go right back the next day. You do this because you trust the employees and know that they are only human and that we all make mistakes, which means you won't get turned off by one bad experience.

A faceless conglomerate where you only ever speak to a machine, on the other hand, is probably not going to get the benefit of the doubt or the return of your business.

Companies that show their humanity and build trusting relationships with customers are able to weather the inevitable storms that come their way much better than companies that don't form these connections.

Where do you begin?

Humanizing a brand takes time and effort. It’s trendy to be a human brand, but it’s important to be human at your core instead of starting a few minor initiatives to appear human. If you’re not authentic, people will see through the façade and you won’t gain that trust that makes you a human-to-human brand.

Starting from the top and trickling down throughout your company, the change must be real, thorough and 100% believed-in by every single employee or it won’t work. The organization must adopt Human Era values like authenticity, empathy and vitality that underpin everything you do internally and externally. Leaders must live by these values, and employees must be motivated to exhibit the values in everything they do.

Once this new ideology has infiltrated every part of your team, it will blossom outward. Showing how great you are on the inside will help you form great connections on the outside.

Show face

Human brands show off the real people who run their businesses. They highlight individuals on the team and promote human-to-human interaction with customers.

How do you do this?

  • Tell employee stories in internal or external organizational newsletters and blogs, like Porter's in-flight magazine, which profiles a different employee each month
  • Get real employees out in the community through volunteering and by sponsoring events
  • Show the world what your team does through personal and friendly Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts; David’s Tea Twitter account is a great example of personalizing a brand on social media
  • Use humour (where appropriate), emotion and individuality in marketing and your online presence to remind people that you’re not just a corporate name, you’re a face – one of the many faces in your human organization

Customize the experience

With online tools designed to collect valuable data related to customer interactions, it's easier than ever to get an accurate picture of customers and cater to their specific needs. Creating a custom experience can be simple or complex, but showing your customers that you see them as people instead of numbers is the best way to do business.

How do you do this?

  • Keep track of what a customer bought in the past and recommend products and services that match their profile
  • Personalize marketing by using the recipient's name in an enewsletter
  • Have real conversations with customers and show empathy for their problems
  • Create customer profiles and think about how each individual would want to interact with you
  • Offer customizable mobile experiences so customers can feel connected to you via their smartphone, for example, the many municipalities that are offering transit,  parking and other services via apps like Pingstreet

  • Ask for feedback on everything you do and use the information you gather to make improvements, like the Town of Oakville’s online idea forum that lets the public share and rank ideas about how to improve the community

Own up to mistakes

Word travels fast and public trust is at an all-time low. People will question your claims and seek out information about you from third parties. That's why it's essential for brands to be transparent, authentic and get their own posts out first – both positive and negative. It's the only way to take control over your own messages.

How do you do this?

  • Recognize your mistakes and apologize quickly and honestly through traditional and online communications
  • Use social media for real conversations and feedback - but don't start a social media account if you don't have the staff to properly maintain it – York Region Transit communicates openly with the public and circulates transit updates via its Twitter account
  • Be honest about where you're at in your annual reporting and internal communications; it's better to admit to a failure and show how you learned from it than to try to cover it up

Being human is easier than you think

Appealing to customers on a human level is so simple, we’d call it human nature. Remember, your audience is the most important thing about your company because without them, you don’t have anything. Reconnecting with your customers can be a fun, creative and inventive way to get your staff more involved in your company.

Change is our business. Let’s talk brand strategy.

Molly Campbell is a communicator passionate about community engagement and digital change. In her current role, Molly is a Digital Advisor and Communication Consultant with GHD Advisory's Digital team in Melbourne, Australia. Molly’s experience includes managing website and mobile app development projects as well as creating and implementing communications and social media strategies. Her background in journalism allows Molly to help clients engage meaningfully with their audiences and influence positive community change. 

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