By Lynn Manternach/Tree Full of Owls

One of the new mantras in marketing is “humanize the brand.” Humanizing the brand generally involves looking for opportunities to interact with customers on a personal level. It’s about connecting the brand with a distinctive personality or an engaging personal narrative.

Humanizing the brand is a concept that is most visible in the realm of social media. That’s probably because social media has made a personalized connection with brands much more possible than ever before. And in some ways, it’s made humanizing the brand more necessary as well.

Consumers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of marketing messages and media channels. They need ways to sift, sort and prioritize. Social media has made it easier for consumers to inform their buying decisions by gathering input from other consumers and from the brands themselves.

But humanizing the brand isn’t about social media. It’s really about the brand. To be more specific, it’s about the people behind the brand.

Our economy has transitioned from commodities to goods and now to services. Because of that, the brand and the people behind it are a company’s key competitive differentiator. That makes humanizing the brand more important than ever.

Your company’s brand lives in the hearts and minds of consumers, and is based on a range of experiences with your company’s products, services, employees and more. Consumers are increasingly basing their brand perceptions on the interactions they have with your employees, both online and offline. Therefore, humanizing the brand is also about the bottom line. A humanized brand connects with consumers and turns them into brand advocates.

Consumers can find dozens of places that sell the same products or services that you sell. But if you can humanize your brand and find a way to connect with consumers over shared values, shared interests, or perhaps a shared vision, you have a customer who is also an advocate.

The good news is that this warm and fuzzy concept of humanizing the brand is backed by cold hard research.

The April 2012 edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology published some compelling brand research across seven different white papers. The research shows consumers judge and interact with brands in essentially the same way they do with other people and social groups. As a result, brands that exhibit warmth and competence have a greater ability to establish trustworthiness and long-term loyalty.

A 1999 economic research study by Iris Bohnet and Bruno Frey showed that the greater the social distance, the less willing people were to hand over money. Increased social proximity and connection has an impact on transactions, and people are more likely to want to share their money with those they feel they have a connection with. People respond to the personal touch.

So how do we to provide that personal touch to consumers?

Social media might be the most visible tool you use to connect consumers with your brand in a humanized way. But the real power of humanizing your brand happens throughout your company, not just online.

Ultimately, humanizing your brand is about company alignment. It has to be rooted deep inside the core of the company.

Your employees are your most authentic expression of your brand. There’s where you need to start.

Your employees need to clearly understand what your brand is and what the ideal brand interaction feels like for the consumer. They need to understand not only what your company does, but also how you do it. And most importantly, they need to understand why you do it.

Of course, this assumes you have taken the time to really understand and articulate your brand. If you haven’t, you should make it a priority. Without a clearly focused understanding of your brand, you risk disappointing consumers and employees. If you can’t articulate who you are and why anyone should care, others will do it for you. And that usually doesn’t work very well.

Humanizing your brand is not about deciding to share lots of personal stories to show you are human. It’s about deeply understanding who your company is, and then being able to communicate and share content with that understanding in mind.

A clearly understood and articulated brand makes it possible for you to hire good people, educate them on representing the brand and create a company culture that employees can be proud of. From there, they can blend in their own personalities, experiences and voices to let your brand organically become humanized. Anything else will feel inauthentic.

 

Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. (MindFireComm.com) in Cedar Rapids and Le Claire. Contact Lynn at lmanternach@mindfirecomm.com.