What’s a thought, an emotion, a physical need? One thing’s for certain, your answer won’t be a string of numbers, computer code, or electronic signals. Probably, not data sets or pixelated images either.
If computers wanted to sell things to other computers, then basing marketing on what software can easily count, process, and evaluate would be a good idea. But if humans want to use computers to sell things to other humans, then marketing strategies had better not get too carried away with the idea that technology is the be-all and end-all.
The message is very simple. Don’t rely on something that’s not human to communicate with humans.
Multiple channels, amazing apps, and an insatiable appetite for innovation have ensured that brands have myriad opportunities to connect with customers. But we need to remember that at both ends of a digitally-enabled marketing effort, there are human brains at work. Tech can offer connection but can’t guarantee quality. The only thing that can is the most sensitive information processing system on the planet; the human brain.
The Tool Of Communication
Humans are innately social, and we are all hardwired to recognise and seek out beneficial connections with others. This ability is both highly tuned and a dominant feature of choice and decision-making. We actively and constantly check for signs and signals of shared culture, values, and desires. We want to understand and be understood because that has always been fundamental to our success and survival. Communication is the tool that allows us to design our own lives.
Recent research has shown that marketing activity that emulates human traits and communicates in a human tone activates the same areas of the brain that respond to real-life human communication. This finding indicates a mechanism at work which increases the possibility of improving emotional response from consumers—the key driver of trust and loyalty. It reveals an exciting opportunity to emulate these deeper relationships which can be difficult to establish when marketing is mediated by less human-focused efforts.
Marketers would do well to understand this and prioritise a highly nuanced, human approach to campaigns if we want to really connect with consumers in a way that gets results.
True Connection In A Disrupted World
So what does real connection look like in a world disrupted by fake news, fake profiles, and fake brand messaging? Thinking human is key. Effective human-to-human connection has some irreplaceable features:
1. Empathy. Brands need to relate to their customers as social beings who are built to depend on each other. Current research highlights that humans have evolved to attach to those who understand them, appear to meet their needs, and share their values.
Big data analysis has enabled campaigns to be more personalised and targeted than ever before. Equipped with a greater vision of consumer needs and desires, we are in a privileged position. Technology can help uncover and share campaigns such as “Voices Nationwide” and “Kronkiwongi” from Lego that put sensitivity at the fore of cultural and personal values. But it’s also a case of “junk in, junk out.” If we don’t seek out and then handle data in an intelligent, human way, its findings are either useless or counterproductive as some huge brands discovered earlier this year when their ads appeared alongside extremist content on both YouTube and Google.
2. Confidence. Brands must keep pace with a world in flux and know who they are. Scientific studies and recent political events indicate that we trust people who display confidence in themselves, their ideas, and their place in a changing world. It appears that confidence translates as readily as competence. Brands with a strong and clearly defined personality are most likely to be trusted and chosen to deliver what consumers want.
A great example of clarity and confidence is Keds, which successfully linked together International Women’s Day with its own collective of female entrepreneurs to promote a clear identity of femininity with strength.
3. Responsiveness. Responsive brands act quickly and positively. Two-way interaction is fundamental to cementing attachment and building trust. It is more successful to have the customer tell a brand what they want and need than to try to force a brand’s idea upon them. The most effective brand communication follows the human sequence: listen, respond, provide.
Just consider the success of global brands such as Airbnb that base their marketing strategies on prioritising the humans that use their services, rather than fixate on the technology itself. It owns, supports, and responds to a unique online community to let customers “belong anywhere” and “be in charge of vocals.”
Connected consumer content is an unparalleled mechanism for enabling this. Responses must be personalised and consistent across multiple channels and consumer touch points. In the future, the boundaries between the digital and the physical worlds will continue to blur, and brands need to synchronise their response in both domains. This is an opportunity to behave as an ally and generate loyalty.
4. Surprise. It’s not breaking news that attention spans are getting shorter. As humans, once we think we understand, we move on. One way to shake consumers into attentiveness is to break established patterns, custom, and clichés. We love fun and novelty but, for brands, this must reside not just in the method of delivery but in the content we aim to deliver.
This type of branding can be adapted to any campaign. For example, originality is right at the heart of what the JD Roots platform offers Jack Daniel’s and what the “Because no reason” campaign brings in a different way to Chambord. They both engage customers because they create the delight and surprise that humans really want.
Our Think Human research is a lens through which creative ideas and commercial choices can be focused, enacted, and activated. Although tech is already learning to emulate, and even impersonate, human emotion, it can never fully replace it because it simply doesn’t have the evolutionary and biological imperative to think the way we do. Human-first thinking may look like a simple idea in a complex world of tech, but it is also the most fundamental and powerful way in which long-lasting, meaningful, and successful relationships can be won rather than lost.