It used to be that people only had a few TV channels to watch and radio stations to listen to. Routines were planned around what time their favourite programmes were aired.
The human brand, who are we fooling?
By Craig Hannabus, Strategist at NATIVE VML
The age of the human brand is upon us. It is no longer enough to sell reliable products of a high quality. A brand needs to be so much more than that. A brand needs to be human. These days brands have their own personalities, social profiles, and a host of other things that a few years ago would have been reserved for actual human beings. But, if you really think about it, have we made our brands less human in an attempt to make them more human?
Lets unpack the human brand. What does it mean to be a human brand? One of the key traits that makes human beings what they are is empathy. Empathy requires imagination. It requires us to imagine what it must be like to be in someone elses situation, to feel what they feel, to understand what they are going through. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint), empathy can be faked.
Its easy to pretend to understand someone. A well-timed nod and a sympathetic oh I see goes a long way. Can brands fake empathy? They do, almost all the time. The truth is that a brand personality is a manufactured thing. It isnt the expression of someones life experience or ideals; it is an expression of a list of criteria defined by a strategist based on what the consumer wants to see. In essence, it is exactly what your average sociopath does. A sociopath, unable to identify with most human beings, will often fake compassion based on what he or she has observed. What Im getting at is that most brands (if not all), are sociopathic in nature.
Creativity is another powerful human trait. The ability to express ourselves with creativity, art, literature, all those beautiful things that bring us together as a body of living organisms sharing a collective experience. Its beautiful in principle, chaotic in practice. Creativity is born from emotion, from passion, from a deep understanding of the human condition and the need to reflect that. Do brands possess this? Is it possible to capture the essence of human creativity within the confines of a set of brand rules? The answer is no.
So, are we truly creating human brands or are we just getting smarter with our existing sociopathic brands? Perhaps the real question is: should we even bother trying to simulate humanity? Whether it be conscious or sub-conscious, the consumer knows that they are not talking to a human being whenever they tweet angrily at a company thats wronged them. You can tell by the kind of language that is used, the tone, and the quickness to launch into a tirade of abuse. People know they are dealing with an organisation. The brand is slow-moving and bureaucratic, the consumer is not fooled by the moving brand story that was uploaded to the company Facebook page just last week. They do not see the human brands, they see companies. All the beautifully crafted content in the world will not change that.
Do we throw our hands up in the air and give up on the human aspect of branding? No. While words like authenticity and emotion are being overused by content and social strategists the world over, they are not valueless expressions. Authenticity is really about acknowledging that you are an organisation or a company. Its also about demonstrating that any company or organisation is populated and powered by real human beings. Those human beings have stories. Those stories are the authentic ones. The stories about the single mother that runs the human resources department and makes use of the company child-minding service.
The story about the financial manager with the vision to overhaul business practices and introduce fair treatment. The story about the CEO who wanted to ignite passion in his staff through innovation. These are the real stories, these are the stories that the consumer will connect with. These stories are relevant, they make sense to the consumer and they demonstrate a business that cares about its employees and consumers in real and meaningful ways.
So yes, the brand sociopath might be here to stay for a little while but in the end it will give rise not to a human brand but rather a brand filled with humanity.
Distributed on behalf of NATIVE VML by Cathy Findley PR. Media contact: Nicola Honey on 011 463 6372 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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