being human

Ever since I entered advertising, I still hear the one fact about consumers that’s reiterated over and over again – that they are constantly evolving. They have evolved to become smart and see through many of the marketing and advertising tactics we showmen are always cooking up for them. But that doesn’t change the fact that advertising is still very effective if done right. Gone are the days when we could assume things about consumers and build narratives for brands based on our gut feeling; today, it’s all about representing the right kind of values and saying the right kind of things, while seamlessly integrating the brand in those narratives.

However, it doesn’t just stop there. When consumers interact with a brand, they expect to be heard and given due attention on an individual level. That’s why it’s usually advised that ad copy should refer to the customers in the second person. Brands aren’t unreachable anymore; they now have an inherent responsibility towards their customers when it comes to building a connection with them.

Since it’s about connecting with them on a much deeper level now, brands cannot just talk down at customers anymore; they must speak with them and expect the conversation to continue if customers connect with their message. In order to ensure that everything goes smooth and a strong relationship is to be created with them, brands need to show consumers that they’re not just a faceless voice that can be heard on media platforms, but rather humans like all of us, who do not just embody the brand but actually speak with them on behalf of the brand.

Say It Like You Mean It

Brands talk to people. All the communication we as marketers and advertising professionals develop for brands are actually the voices we are giving them in speaking with their customers. That’s why brands spend time strategizing their positioning, messages, tone and essence. However, if those strategic decisions get translated into robotic messages advertising speak these days, then those brand building efforts risk falling flat on their faces. Brands need to embody various personas and, in their communications, need to constantly reinforce those personas to maintain a healthy connection with consumers. This is simply because people respond better to people; audiences are not just looking to understand the ‘why’ behind what your brand is doing, but they also want to get to know your brand better as well as the people behind it. Taking this route makes it easier for your brand to become relatable, interesting and most importantly personal to consumers.

An example can be drawn from brands such as Harley Davidson, a brand which comes across as a rebel. While its communication embodies rebellious connotations, its tone of voice, and even human elements have a specific representation that people can relate to. When you think Harley, you think leather jackets, big tattoos, a long beard and a badass attitude. People with affinities towards such a personality have the potential to connect better with the brand.

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Personifying Your Brand

One of the best ways to personify your brand is by using a simple but important Brand Archetype tool, that lets you choose between twelve types of identities that you can assign to your brand. Each identity represents a specific tone of voice, motivations, strengths, fears and associations. Attaching your brand with an archetype is the first step in making an effort towards humanizing your brand.

Another way to make your brand human is by assigning it a certain type of personality. Ask yourself one question every time you are in the process of building a brand – who would my brand be if it were a human? By imagining your brand as one specific individual, you have given the brand enough context to breathe some life into it. Then, start delving into the details – what is the framework of this person? Is it a man or a woman? Is he or she so professional and formal or laid back and playful? No matter how you personify your brand, you will always find a group of audiences ready to connect with you.

Share Your Story With Transparency

Just like humans have stories, brands do too. However, rather than talk about a ‘legacy’ and ‘origins’, talk about the things and people behind the brand and be transparent about it. Staying relevant and tying your story with the motivations and stories that push the brand to move further allows for better relationship building with the audience.

If It Talks Like a Human and Walks Like a Human…

Then it’s a human! Some of the most successful brands these days speak with their consumers, especially on social and digital platforms, like people would. This ensures that the interactions that take place between them are real and interesting. The way Wendy’s tweets about its thoughts, as well as the famous ‘National Roast Day’ allows for people to connect with the brand just like they would with a cheeky friend. Coca-Cola, KFC and others take the time to actually respond to audiences online just like a human would, when they are mentioned. In fact, many brands even go the extra mile to have a say in many subjects to show audiences that they, like humans, have an opinion too – which they aren’t afraid to voice. An excellent example is how Nike stood by Colin Kaepernick and launched a campaign featuring him, during a time when it was most controversial, even though a lot of people ended up burning Nike shoes.

Consistency is Key

While it is easy to build a brand and attribute human qualities to it, the bigger challenge is to stay consistent with that voice and attitude. Imagine a friend who is a certain type, and if he acts out of character one day, it would make you suspicious. The same is the case with brands. Staying true to your character and representing the right kind of associations is what helps brands win, and truly make themselves matter not to ‘target audiences’, but to the people that matter to them.

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Muhammad Ali Khan is AVP/Manager of Communications at JS Bank. He has previously served as Associate Director of Strategy & Creative at Synergy Dentsu and Spectrum VMLY&R.