Being human: Why your brand should be driven by people, not your logo

What it means to be a brand has irrevocably changed in the last ten years. Up until the last decade, being a brand often meant creating a slick, faceless corporate machine that told your consumers how to live, how to dream and what to look like.

It was a one-way street, a monologue from the brand to people who unquestionably consumed what they told them. Brands were perfection – not humans.

In the noughties things changed and thanks to social media, the cracks appeared. Brands appeared naked – warts and all – and the monologue changed to a dialogue.

The brands didn’t necessarily want it that way but their customers demanded it. They questioned them, challenged them and demanded they respond in public – with witnesses.

Social media gave consumers a voice and a very public forum in which to put brands and their actions under the microscope. From that point onwards there was no going back – no sweeping things under the carpet, or dealing with issues privately, offline to silence disgruntled customers. Brands needed to face the music. If they didn’t they faced a very public roasting.

The public got creative with it too – who can forget United Airlines breaks guitars song where a musician’s customer service nightmare was relayed in a song viewed over 10 million times on Youtube. It became an internet sensation generating thousands of search results under United’s name all over Google, destroying their own search efforts. The torrent of search results and links to the song certainly had an effect on people’s perceptions of the airline. The BBC reported that United’s stock price dropped by 10% within three to four weeks of the release of the video – a decrease in valuation of $180 million.

And then there’s the infamous ‘Kill Kids’ mock-up of the ‘Kit Kat’ chocolate bar wrapper, referring to manufacturer Nestle’s involvement in the powdered baby milk scandal in Africa. This too was badly handled, with Nestle threatening the people behind it with legal action on their social media channels – demanding the parody be taken down. Needless to say it didn’t go down well – Nestle tried to play big brother and realised it wasn’t them who owned their brand but the public. And that it was their perception that could make or break even the biggest heavyweight’s household reputation.

But what have we learned from these episodes as marketers? Well these stories are legendary and pretty old now – surely we’ve learnt our lessons? But every now and again we need reminding how it’s our customers who own our brand, not us.

And it doesn’t stop there – the humility of brands is still evolving. Clever marketers are losing the logos, fake smiles and company policies – they’re putting their people at the forefront of their marketing and customer experience.

First Direct LiveFirst Direct practice the art of vulnerability in the latest campaign.

You can’t run, hide or cover-up your mistakes, so what do you do when things go wrong? The answer is very simple – be human. Humans make mistakes, they’re vulnerable, they learn and try. They don’t get things right all the time but most people’s hearts are in the right place. We connect with vulnerability – it strikes us at our heart because we’re human and we can’t resist connecting with another human – it’s what makes us tick.

As a marketer the best thing you can do for your brand is to put faces, names and fallibility to it.

Mistakes aren’t ideal but consumers are far more likely to forgive a person rather than a faceless organisation. Don’t be too proud – people sometimes just want to hear ‘You’re right, we’re sorry’ not ‘as a gesture of goodwill’. That’s one phrase which rubs an already disgruntled customer up the wrong way even further.

But it’s not just about customer service – you don’t need to just be human when you’re saying sorry. There’s real strength in telling the human story behind your brand from the get-go.

Make sure who have an ‘about us’ page which features key team members – not just bland profile pics and job descriptions but something personal about them. Sign-off your emails from your local store managers, account managers and give your customer service reps names on social media – even set-up personalised company profiles. The UK bath and body retailer Lush even put the faces of the people who make their products on their pots for their customers to see and connect with. It’s not only endearing but it gives individuals responsibility and credit – not to mention pleasing the consumers who love the personal touch.

Lush pots

Think of some of our most loved brands past and present – they have faces and names attached to them – a personality driven by their founders and a vision that is within the company’s DNA. Steve Jobs and Apple, Anita Roddick and The Body Shop, Richard Branson and Virgin, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. There’s a story and heritage behind the brand which connects us to their very existence. They all tell people why they do what they do. People are drawn to a vision and your marketing will have more credibility if it connects with a core belief held by your company.

And before the more traditional marketers dismiss this logic saying it’s a fluffy consumer angle which isn’t right for professional services then stop and look at the success of First Direct, Google, Hewlett Packard and Intel. These companies may not have founders with celebrity status but they pride themselves on delivering very personal and human service centred around their consumers problems and needs.

hp playlist

Intel putting people at the heart of their latest marketing campaign.

The truth is simple. You’re kidding yourself if you think people build relationship with faceless brands. People build relationships with people. So tell your story and talk to your customers like the individual human beings they are and instead of putting people behind your brand – put them at the front.

Download the Advanced Email Series: Personalisation Guide