So what does it take to humanise a brand? Given how complex human beings are, it’s not surprising that there isn’t a simple checklist, but we think there are certain principles that in combination can lead to more human brands.
Show genuine character
One of the most evident ways we can judge whether a brand behaves in a human way is its personality. Speaking like a real person sounds like an obvious place to start, but it’s amazing the number of brands that don’t, particularly those with a more professional or technical audience. Every business is bursting at the seams with jargon and acronyms, and often cutting back on that internally is a good first step in ensuring it doesn’t characterise you on the outside.
From Hiscox’s straight-talking approach to their comms, to brands like Oscar - the US healthcare insurance brand - and Justworks, the back office platform, there are examples that prove you can balance professionalism and personality and standout with a simpler, more genuine approach.
There’s also an increasing number of brands using personification to try and build a more human quality to their sell. Brands in the growing online mattress sector, for one, sound like a school assembly roll-call (Eve, Simba, Casper). But it goes well beyond name. There are some brands using personification to tell more of a story around their products: from plant delivery service Patch, using names for their plants (‘Big Ken’ the paradise palm, is a favourite) that are actually helpful in educating around plant care, to Gut Oggau’s wines, using hand-drawn illustrations of the winery owners’ family and friends as both a standout labelling architecture and to describe the character of the wine itself.
Create human-centred experiences
As a brand, behaving in a more human way starts with your people. So often, service brands can dehumanise themselves and the experience through process, standardisation and script. But some grow real affinity through empowering their people to respond in a more natural, personal way, from Nordstrom (whose employee handbook has one rule only: use good judgement in all situations) to Zappos and First Direct: all creating experiences that feel more genuine and warm.
But it’s not just about people, it’s about the design of your spaces and channels. Recently, Nationwide has announced a new open-plan store concept designed to make a more human and homely experience. The plan is to break down the more commonly austere and impersonal banking environment and give room to comfort and conversation. Sephora have another approach, using technology to create more emotional connections in store through virtual try-on tools and skin-scanning, helping customers feel more sure that their purchase is just right for them.
As humans, we want to feel a sense of belonging. For some brands, creating communities around their products or services is a good way to build better connections with its customers and feel more human: from GiffGaff or cycling brand Rapha to Nike’s Running Clubs.
Be principled at heart
It’s uniquely human to have values and belief systems. It’s nothing new for businesses to have and communicate their values too, but the question is always about how true vs. aspirational they are. Brands behaving in a more human way is about having values that are genuinely shared by its people every day. But even more importantly, it’s about demonstrating and sticking to them. Unilever has threatened to withdraw its advertising from online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter if they fail to eradicate content which “creates division in society and promotes anger and hate.” Not only is Unilever alert to threats to their values, they are willing to cut off the channels that provide over a quarter of their advertising to their consumers.
Much has been written about the importance of culture as the battlefield on which strategy ultimately either lives or dies. The recently released book by John Grant, ‘Better’, proposed an interesting perspective that feels like a fundamental part of brands behaving in a more human way. His suggestion is that at heart, the purpose of every organisation is first and foremost to care for its own people, before it can fulfil its own bigger purpose. Those brands that create more empathetic cultures will be those who’ll attract and retain the best talent and create environments in which diverse teams, and the business, will thrive.
Seen in this light, humanising your brand very much starts at home, and while understanding your consumer, being more thoughtful, open and honest, being genuine in character and creating human-centred experiences all matter, understanding yourselves and your people might just be the key to connecting more with the people you communicate with.
Thanks to Becky King (creative director at Dragon Rouge) for help in preparing this article.