tough but not impossible.
A friendly shoe. A laptop that makes you feel like you run the world. Sunglasses that shift your perspective.
None of this existed just over 50 years ago. We existed in a product-run and led economy, one where functional benefits won over everything.
We were being sold to basis what the product did for us. It was transactional and no one cared because at that time — there wasn’t that much competition either. Win-win.
Over time, “business” became the cool thing to do and therefore lots more competition erupted. People selling like products, which to a naked eye, if labelless meant nothing. It was a tube of toothpaste. And every toothpaste cleans teeth.
Since then, along the way, we slowly realised how differentiation and a value proposition played our in the consumers eyes. From there on, we acquired the ammunition of storytelling and humanization, extremely powerful tools used to bring customers closer to the brands that are selling, and vice versa.
Now brands needed to have a persona, a personality, a human touch and a human approach to selling. Fast forward to today, a Colgate and a Pepsodent, a Pepsi and a Coca Cola — same category, different view of the world.
Humanizing brands is going to be even more mission-critical as we move forward.
Here are some ways I believe this is going to play out through the next decade or more.
- Building positioning statements that aren’t just logical
- Using archetypes that are not just words, but something more deeply ingrained in the brand’s mind
- Carving niches in voice and tone
- Using color theory rather than just generalizations
- Community as a weapon of growth
Why positioning has to be a human-first play
When we think of positioning statements, we generally think in this formula — category + differentiator + reasons to believe. This formula has stood the test of time for sure but as we move forward, the focus must shift to a formula that looks something like this.
Unmet need + emotional benefits + competitive advantage
Like we moved from functional to emotional — our brand positioning strategy also needs to take this into account. This will help set up the brand’s pace and future on a solid foundation.
Adding an emotion here, too, makes it believable. Humans don’t buy Ray Ban’s because it gives their eyes sun protection. They buy it because it makes them feel confident and gives them a rugged yet polished look.
Going beyond just facts on a positioning statement also goes to show that you understand your audience more than data points, but as real people — with real needs and gaps in what they have vs what they want which you’re fulfilling.
The usability of talking to 50–100 beta testers will uncover interesting insights that will be and can be used as the brand launches, grows and thrives.
Positoning is the first stone which needs to be solidified before stepping on to the next few.
The abuse of archetypes, and the new-age archetype
Archetyping is a guideline and framework which guides the personality that a brand must possess.
It simplifies the persona your brand will imbibe. For example, Playstation is a hero archetype. One that stands for winning, being the best at your craft, and overcoming troubles till victory.
While this sounds good on paper, it’s extremely difficult to translate into Marcomms.
What then happens is, this gets ingored and abused. And while doing so, what happens is you lose your brand essence.
You’ve failed to join the dots between brand and consumer in action.
Picking an archetype and bringing it into the new age world is going to be key, because that not only builds trust, it shows you actually stuck with your archetype and personality when push came to shove.
Quick pro tip: Before writing anything ‘for the brand’ look at a wordcloud of words that mean something special to your brand and can be translated into sentences. For example for Playstation it’ll be — fighting attitude, showcase, confidence, challenge, overcome, tact and many more.
Once you’ve got your brand in place, the next thing to do is to let this evolve, live and thrive in the real world and for that you’ll need a voice and tone to say what you want to.
Carving niches in voice and tone
Being a living brand is hard as is, and add on a layer of having to ‘sound fun’ or ‘sarcastic with a sense of professionalism’ — it’s not as interesting as it sounds if you have to do this day in and day out.
However, there was a reason that your brand voice and tone was set out to be different — it was to (scrolls to the top!) humanize your brand so your audience relates to you.
It’s meant to be the crack of neon pink on a boring black wall, or a spotted tiger in the jungles. You get the point?
Your voice, tone and messaging is a passage to building a relationship and relatability with your audience. And it’s not an overnight success ever — it’s a constant pursuit.
Following the guideline isn’t just for ‘marketing peeps’ — it’s for everyone — from customer service to HR till Ops. While they’re people first, they’re brand custodians second as well. And when you’re repping a brand, you have to sound like that brand day in and day out.
It’s not about your 300 social media posts, it’s about customer experience as well and how you’re using ‘your brand tone and voice’ as your armor through good times and bad, in sickness and in health.
Here’s an example from Chewy:
This is an instance that Chewy is known to respond to, and with extreme empathy that is. Their entire brand is based on compassion, love, your pet being your buddy through life and so much more — it’s not surprising that this instance is one where they chose to speak up, as is expected of them.
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of it with regards to voice and tone — irrespective of channel, medium, length or production — your brand has to sound as ‘one’ — there has to be that common thread binding everything you do and say, together.
Irresepctive of where I see your brand represented, if the logo was removed, I should know what brand it came from basis how it sounds and feels.
Moving on from here, let’s talk about visual identity. We can’t forget that humans consume audio, video, text, images and so much more.
Color theory in action
Colors are meant to signify or represent an emotion when it comes to the brand. There’s plenty said about this on the internet.
When you really think of humanizing a brand, you have to think of what colors are relevant to firstly the industry, and then the product. It’s not just the emotion, it’s also the perception.
While blue might be a good color for a babycare brand, so is yellow. When humanizing, you have to think of, are you looking for your brand to convey ‘safety’ or ‘joy of life’? — if you put it into this perspective, I’m sure the answer to which color fits with which, is obvious.
We, as humans, correlate everything — including colors- to ‘how we feel’ or ‘how do we feel when we think of brand x?’.
A big problem I’ve seen is with entrepreneurs doing this entire process upside down. They start with a name and logo, and then move on to the brand strategy. Big no no.
Your brand strategy lays out the fundamentals, your logo, name and colors support. You cannot retrofit emotions if you’re doing the process backwards.
As the color trickles down into executions (social media/BTL) it becomes even more important to make sure you stick to what was originally decided.
Being ‘on brand’ is using colors smartly and with logic.
Don’t color on a whim, color with logic and emotion. Your color represents you, and brings you closer to your audience for when the time is right.
Once you’ve got your brand in place — community is where your next leap is probably going to be. Not that it doesn’t help with company metrics, what is also does it help build authentic, real connections — which every brand strives for.
Community as a weapon of growth
Who would’ve thought that communities could lead to community-led-growth just via conversations? — no one predicted this to be the case.
However, over the last few years community-run, community-led brands have seen immense growth and affinity happen because of this initiative. This makes your brand less of a stickler, and more human over time since your brand grows with the audience rather than beside.
Because of community, your audience may feel like they’re heard, and are valued for being a part of your mission — something that’s priceless.
Think of brands like Apple, Sephora, Harley Davidson- what makes their community so special that it not only humanizes the brand, but also helps their brand grow?
Here are some answers
- Offers a chance for “the brand Apple” and the audience to indulge in knowledge-sharing and community-led support forums
- Community fuels buying behavior through being consultative and having a trusted space where questions can be asked, and answers can be given without bias
- The community gives the brand and audience an added ‘sense of belonging and meaning’ — which provides a wholesomeness to the brand experience
In a world where we’re looking for belonging, community is the key to unlocking this door for brands. Community is more than just a ‘brand objective’ but a humanizing the brand objective — one that’s going to take time, perseverance, and dedication.
Humanizing brands has been talked about for years before this article was written, but as I’ve noticed, there has been more of a tilt towards humanized branding in the last few years, a push that will separate push-brands from pull-brands.
Afterall, brands that pull us in, are the ones we build meaningful relationships with.