Notice how hard brands and company leaders are fighting for your attention lately? They’re trying Brand Humanization; to position products and services to appeal to consumers, de-position the competition’s (very similar) stuff, and a million other tactics. But has it worked? Do brands truly appeal to you at a human level? Maybe not in many, many cases just yet.
But they’re trying. One indicator is brands’ efforts with Trust Marketing. Spending as much time on Twitter and other social media channels as I do, I can see why. Trust is necessary if we are to think of brands in human terms.
Brand Humanization sounds like old school marketing spin, but it’s not.
Humanizing brands is more than marketing – it’s a necessity in a world where social media can sweep aside positioning and branding in a heartbeat.
After many years spent consulting with leaders at software technology companies to help them attract talent, I have come to believe Brand Humanization holds answers on how to move business forward in a ‘meh’ economy. Brand Humanization does this by emphasizing community and storytelling, which are powerful tools with which leaders can develop and nurture workplace culture.
As a big believer in the power of personality and culture fit, which, as it turns out, is a first cousin of Brand Humanization, I’ve worked with companies as they try to align workplace culture and brand. This usually takes place when they’re trying to recruit top talent. The executive team gathers to concoct a brand statement to describe the culture of the company with the goal of making the company appealing to candidates.
But this gets things exactly backwards.
Why? Because defining workplace culture and corporate brand is the front end of the recruitment process. Waiting to think about workplace culture and brand until you need to recruit new talent is like closing the barn door after the horses have left.
A company’s culture can ensure the success of its business objectives and its most valuable asset: Human Capital. AKA Human Beings, People.
To humanize a brand, you first must ensure the corporate culture is robust enough to sustain the good will of employees, your brand ambassadors. People’s stories and personalities inform your corporate culture, so it pays to make sure your workplace culture supports your employees and aligns with your brand.
Let’s look at five reasons why Brand Humanization is important and not a Social Media Fad:
1) Brand Humanization leverages the power of networks of people – to help tell stories about your brand and company culture.
These stories make your business interesting and compelling to consumers, employees, and investors. Each of your employees belongs to many networks – friends, families, business associates and so on. If you let people bring their humanity to your brand, they’ll also bring your brand into their networks. That’s a form of reach money can’t buy.
2) Brands which have been humanized attract and sustain communities of real live people.
Brand communication is not a one-way channel, these communities are critical to brand survival. Apple is a great example here. Go hang out at your local Apple store next weekend – it will be filled with people drawn in by the power of that brand, which is all about building technology to serve people.
3) Communities are groups of people who share interests and intent.
People join social communities because they have a purpose, an intent, and communities let them act on their intent. They are looking for a place to be (Facebook), a place to learn (Google +, Pinterest), a place to interact (Twitter). Communities are critical to crowdsourcing excitement about brand, which translates to brand value. Levi’s rises to the top here. Take a close look at what they have accomplished via social media channels.
4) Trust is the key to Brand Humanization. Trust creates value; it’s why people become attracted to your brand.
Social communities must trust your brand; if they don’t, they can easily destroy it. In order to humanize a brand, you must first assess your ‘trust quotient’ before turning to social communities to promote or socialize your brand. Look into Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s past work on Trust Economies for more. Trust is everything in Brand Humanization, and it comes before interaction with communities of employees and consumers.
5) Social interaction drives other behaviors.
It foreshadows brand involvement, it is the front-end of buying decisions, and it lets people tell authentic, engaging stories about your brand. Get this right, or the stories won’t be engaging and you’ll be forced into damage control mode. Be careful, though, not to think presence on Twitter or Facebook is the equivalent of social interaction. Many brands assume they’re in two-way conversations on these channels, but when you take the time to dig into traffic, very few real bi-directional discussions are taking place. This goes back to trust – only when you’ve humanized your brand enough to gain the trust of your communities will you see two-way communication on most social channels. It’s like SETI – you have to keep the channel open in the hopes of hearing back.
Brand Humanization builds on trust, community and social interaction and doubles down to create a powerful tool to sustain your brand and interact with your brand ambassadors (employees), consumers and prospects. Think about humanizing your brand, and do it soon.
A version of this post was first published on forbes.com on 5/8/2012