Dear Leaders: Humanize Your Brand

Back in ancient times (let’s go with 1970s or 1980s) when mainframes ruled the world and “friends” were people you actually knew, the rules of engagement were very different. Companies and customers met when a transaction was taking place. Otherwise, everyone went their separate ways and did their own thing. Well, that kind of cut-and-dried, disconnected relationship truly is a thing of the past – at least for brands that want to succeed in the future.

Things (and leaders we hope) are much more personal now.

The computer, one of the most significant developments in human history, has changed everything. It’s brought us all into the (virtual) town square together 24/7/365. That means leaders of companies and their employees can reach customers (current and potential) in ways our distant ancestors back in the day could only dream of.

Our social media culture takes this truth to the next level by allowing brands to build emotional connections with their customers, to become a part of their lives, both in their homes and — done right — in their hearts. The heart of this is ongoing, online dialogue. Both parties benefit. The customer’s idiosyncratic (and sometimes maddening) needs and wants can be met. The company gets increased sales, of course, but also instant feedback on its products — every online chat has the potential to yield an actionable nugget of knowledge.

The result of this new intimacy: your brand is humanized, customer loyalty skyrockets, performance and team morale is boosted.

Humanizing your brand does take some thought – don’t rush into it. These five basic steps can guide you:

1) Have a plan.

At its best, brand humanization is a seamless blend of personal brand, company values, workpace culture and social community. It takes leadership to make this happen. Spend some time understanding what brand humanization would look like for your company. How does it fit with your current culture? How will your culture need to change? Do you have the social media talent to set up both the IT mechanics and the “soft” side of humanization (in their dialogue with customers, employees must be given freedom, not carte blanche). If you don’t have the talent, hire it! I cannot overstate the importance of this. Once you have a plan (spend days or weeks on this, not months — no committees or study groups allowed) get cracking on putting it into action.

2) Know thyself.

Brand humanization means opening up your company and culture, and inviting customers in. So you have to know who you are, you have to a brand identity that is consistent yet allows employees room to express themselves. Southwest Airlines is a venerable master of brand humanization — its flight attendants have always been encouraged to bring their personalities to work, to crack jokes, to be warm and friendly with customers. It is one of the lynchpins of the company’s sustained success. Know your company’s personality (and it doesn’t have be relentlessly upbeat) and how to express it through social media.

3) Create brand ambassadors and evangelists.

Humanization is about turning employees into goodwill ambassadors, even evangelists, for your brand. To do this, they need the freedom mentioned above. This can be tricky, though. Their personal message has to align with the company’s practices and image. Otherwise, customers can get confused. So limits have to be set on what are acceptable topics (politics is the most obvious off-limits subject). Think of it as putting up guardrails to everyone on track. Training, of course, is crucial to achieve this sometimes delicate balance of employee freedom and brand protection. Better to err on the side of freedom. We’ve all posted (and deleted when we came to our senses) things we probably shouldn’t have. The dangers of over-managing humanization are greater than those of letting people be themselves.

4) Don’t forget your netiquette.

Just like with our flesh-and-blood friends and acquaintances, there are rules of engagement in social media. Humanization does not mean intrusion. It does not mean one-way e-mail blasts. It does not mean oversharing, or too much curiosity. There are boundary issues here — make sure everyone understands that and knows how to respect them. And never forget – in the end, it’s about making the customer and your employees happy.

5) Hire for humanization.

You can talk about training forever, but the fact remains that there is no substitute for talent. And some people have a talent for humanization, for establishing relationships with customers that are mutually fulfilling. No doubt you already have some of these naturals in your organization. When you hire, especially for the frontline, look for traits like humor, warmth, and emotional intelligence, you want people who are articulate, passionate, comfortable in their own skin and naturally extroverted and generous.

Hire right and humanization will a lot easier and more successful.

A version of this post was first published on

Image credit: Gratisography

It's Time To Get Real: Humanize Your Brand

These days, brands are doing everything they can to position products and services. This includes trying to appeal to customers at a human level.

A great example is brands’ efforts with trust marketing. Trust is necessary if we are to think of brands in human terms. And 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. 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, a.k.a, 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 Huffington Post on 2/20/2015