Humanising brands

Brands need to re-examine their relationships with people — what the brand stands for, what they say and how they behave.
08 March 2019
human brands
Cristina Colombo

Chief Offer and Expertise Officer, Insights Division, Italy

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It all starts with a purpose.

The boundaries between technology and humans are rapidly blurring, changing the dynamics of the relationships between people and organisations. The rules won’t magically change in the near future, but how organisations engage with customers will continue to evolve dramatically.

The blurring of physical and digital boundaries, the ever-present nature of communication, the rapid pace of technological change, the massive volumes of content being produced, and the misguided supremacy of data over decorum guiding interaction, make digital marketing today frustrating for consumers and marketers.

More importantly, it’s inefficient. Investment is wasted on ads that are a nuisance, poorly articulated content that is viewed suspiciously, and misguided customer service interactions that are unfulfilling.

Business leaders face unprecedented complexity, constant disruption and profound questions: customers and employees demand more transparency and value from the brands and companies they do business with.

Brands need to re-examine their relationships with people — what the brand stands for, how they present themselves, what they say, how they say it, and how they behave. But there’s hope. Brands just need to learn to be more … human, because brands with high emotional intelligence win.

When brands behave more like humans, in a more nuanced way, with appropriate intent, demonstration of value, relevance, good timing and emotion, they develop stronger bonds with consumers. To understand how to better engage with consumers, businesses must start with brand purpose.

In the words of Keith Weed (Unilever former Chief Marketing and Communications Officer), “Brand purpose is a deep and intrinsic connection to the brand and what it stands for. Purpose must sit at the core of the brand, driving everything it does. It cannot be an add-on or something that comes and goes according to whim or budget. It’s this authenticity that consumers recognise and reward, because today’s consumers, especially Millennials, can smell bullshit a mile away.”

Purposeful positioning is all about how your brand makes a positive impact on people’s lives and the world they live in. It must go beyond what you sell, transcending the product category but having a natural connection to it.

Unlike the corporate social responsibility programs of yesteryear, brand purpose today serves to empower organisations through the concerted focus of efforts around a singular idea that connects core capabilities to a wider social impact.

Think of Tesla’s focus on accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable transport, Dulux’s desire to add colour to people’s lives. Less about “do-good” moralism, brand purpose today acts as a corporate compass with practical implications.

When brands have a “why” to address, it focuses resources, guides decision-making, eliminates inefficiencies and inspires innovation. When done right, it adds to the bottom line.

The value of brand purpose to businesses today is no longer questionable; it is quantifiable. Research and experience show that purpose is required to sustain an enduring competitive edge in consumer preference, talent acquisition and business growth. In the Marketing 2020 work completed by Kantar Consulting, and first published in the Harvard Business Review in 2014, interviews with 600 CMOs and 15,000 consumers worldwide identified “purposeful positioning” as a key driver of marketing success, behind only “big insights” and “total experience”.

The BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking shows that of the 87 brands evaluated in both 2008 and 2018, brands in the top third for brand purpose grew 212% in value, compared to 77% growth for those in the lowest-scoring third.

And according to Kantar Purpose 2020 report:

Top brands better deliver on all three aspects of brand purpose - functional, emotional and societal.

Looking to the future, almost two-thirds of Millennials and centennials, who are fast becoming the economic engine, express a preference for “brands that have a point of view and stand for something”.

Getting purpose right can be a struggle for marketers, but when the bar for marketing success is set ever higher by our “search, skip and share” culture, purpose provides the basis for a compelling and consistent platform on which to build an integrated set of content likely to engage and motivate an otherwise-uninterested audience.

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