Our Thinking

Three Ways to Humanize a Brand

Part of my role as Partner and Creative Director at 108 ideaspace is to be on top of trends. When we think of trends, we typically think of fashion, but consumer trends are not just about fashion, what’s hot at the moment or  being part of the “in-crowd.” Learning about consumer trends is more about figuring out what levers organizations are using to help answer the needs and desires of consumers and how those levers can be adapted to your organization. I recently attended a seminar in Toronto presented by trendwatching.com about consumer trends. One of the big trends that stuck out in my mind was a trend towards humanizing brands. A human brand is more open, honest, and genuine. I thought I would share with you three sub-trends of the practice of humanizing brands.

1. Proud to Prove it

Nowadays brands that say they do good things for the environment, promise not to use sweatshops, and use only natural materials now have to prove it. A great example of this is the website http://honestby.com if you visit this site you will see product descriptions on the materials used, where is was manufactured, how much it costs for them to produce vs. how much they sell it for. The benefit of this is that it makes the organization more human. Which in turn makes the consumer more loyal.

I recently noticed that McDonalds has tried to capitalize on this trend in their recent Your questions campaign (http://yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca.) They are attempting to appear transparent and open to their audience. Consumers are asked to send in questions via social media or the web, someone then responds with an answer. Some of the answers are even videos that debunk some of the myths they are plagued with. For such a large corporation, McDonald’s should be applauded for the attempt. As a vegetarian for 26 years however, I do feel that they could be more forthcoming about their meat products.

2. Random Acts of Kindness

Another big sub-trend is Random Acts of Kindness (ROK). Most people first heard about this on Oprah when she encouraged people to do random acts for strangers. She felt that if a person performs an ROK the receiver would then be inspired to do the same for another stranger (pay it forward). This act is now being performed by organizations looking to make themselves more human.

An example of this is Kleenex tissues. Last year, Kleenex launched a campaign in Israel to promote their products. They scanned Facebook posts and attempted to find local people that were at home, sick with a cold. They then contacted the ill person’s Facebook friends to obtain their contact info and to see if the sick person would be open to receiving a care package from Kleenex. The packages were then couriered to the recipients that same day.

Another example of ROK was the airline KLM. They listened on another social media site – Twitter. They attempted to find people that were feeling down or were in need of some encouragement. KLM then surprised them with a free return trip to Amsterdam. The campaign resulted in an increase of 784 followers for KLM’s UK twitter feed.

Why is this important? Word of mouth is huge for your business, it builds affinity and loyalty for your brand because consumers feel that you care about them. It keeps consumers coming back. Just imagine what happened on Facebook on the day Kleenex sent out the care packages. The friends were surely posting about being contacted while the ill friends were posting about the care package they received.

3. Flawsome

When something goes wrong in an organization, such as getting an order wrong, a rogue employee getting caught on video doing something he shouldn’t be doing or simply a customer complaining. If an organization quickly admits they made a mistake or did something wrong (as opposed to covering up the issue or trying to pretend it doesn’t exist) this just makes the organization more human. Consumers will allow some transgressions if you admit the mistake and if you are open and honest about it. When an organization admits they aren’t perfect they are telling their consumers they are just human just like you and me. If you try to cover it up and word gets out, beware of the backlash of consumers and the mistrust that will follow suit.
You have surely seen Domino’s pizza commercials that feature people claiming “worst excuse for a pizza I ever had,” “Domino’s pizza crust to me is like cardboard” and the complaints went on and on. The chief executive then vowed to fix the problem. He said: “We think that going out there and being this honest really breaks through to people in a way that most advertising does not”. As a result of this campaign, they saw many new customers.

Last year they did something even bolder. They rented out a billboard in New York’s Times Square that featured a tickertape of their Twitter feed. They ran all the Tweets (except the ones with foul language) even though some of the posts were negative. Domino’s feel that admitting that they aren’t perfect is fine. It humanizes them, which then builds affinity and respect towards their brand.