Human Era

2nd April, 2014

Human to Human Marketing

This month I have read the word human many, many times. More times than I can even remember, but I am sure if had a pound for each time, I would guesstimate my earnings to be nearly £500.

Bah, I hear you say: only 500? We are all humans, surely you are entitled to a pound for each of us, if we are all to be part of the marketing mix? Unfortunately, whilst it might be somewhat fun to have access to £7bn, even with my exemplary history of humanising marketing for everyone, this one may be a little far-fetched. Nonetheless, we are definitely in the trend of seeing and hearing more about humans, contextualised by their (now this is news!) uncanny ability to form the current market and furthermore, through their actions actually change the current market status. No, really, I am not kidding. Go ahead and get me that dump truck full of pounds.

The dawn of the human era of marketing has not surprised me. It had to happen at some point and as more and more marketing occurrences are based upon consumer ‘power,’ and the power for consumers to dictate the terms of their brand relationships we could see more brands cede some of their forthrightness.

But really, how do you ‘be’ a human era marketing brand? It is a fine line, it would seem. Research for Marketing Week shows the top 10 ‘human’ brands to be:

  1. Emirates
  2. Virgin Atlantic
  3. John Lewis
  4. Yo! Sushi
  5. Bose
  6. Apple
  7. Samsung
  8. Wagamama
  9. Nationwide
  10. Waitrose

As well as this they also illustrate the brands their respondents believe ‘act most like people’ (with scores out of a maximum ten, by sector):

  1. Emirates | Airlines – 10
  2. John Lewis | Retail – 8
  3. Yo! Sushi | Restaurant – 8.4
  4. Bose | Consumer Electronics – 7.8
  5. Nationwide | Financial Service – 6.7
  6. Waitrose | Groceries – 6.6
  7. Disney | Media and Ent. – 6.1

Mixed results for the human touch – Disney at 6.1 can barely be perceived as human in the wake of Emirati perfection. And so the surveys underlying theme is distinct to see: people buy from brands that represent themselves and will primarily identify with themes and business concepts that represent self-perception. It is clear that companies such as Disney that are all smiles, princesses and heroes are drifting apart due to the very aspect their business promotes: the fairytale life. But image isn’t everything. Disney usually run an extremely well-oiled PR and marketing team that can pick up the slack elsewhere so I am sure they are not really worried.

Moving into the human era of marketing doesn’t mean being best friends with your consumer either. That might be conceived as terrifying and invasive. But changing human perceptions already prevalent in the unconscious can be extremely difficult. Oil and Gas industry marketers with billion dollar budgets still encounter the same number of activists and public condemnation as ever despite attempting to modify public perception. No amount of humanised personification of business ethos or accessibility will win people over in this particular case, but by following simple measures some can conceivably be convinced otherwise.

It is a different approach to managing an entire brand, rather, about managing brand expectations as consumer relationships. And whilst this has always been apparent, moving on from tight rules deciding important issues and communication matters to a signifying point where brands appear lucid, more effervescent – more real, to use some terrible language – to enable consumers, the humans, to perceive the brand as it really is. And for some brands in specific industries such as Oil and Gas evolving internal consumer culture proves an almost impenetrable issue as even with an enhanced humanist rhetoric, their business actions and public image will consistently prove detrimental.

Brands cannot fulfil all the requisite points to enable evolution into the human era of marketing immediately. Regaining a human touch, showing that the brand is listening and understanding its own marketing, as well as noting the synchronisation of offline and online identities and its direct effect on consumers and brands will enable an continuing, positive open dialogue for the coming years.