Neelam Kharay, Chief of Staff – GTM, Acoustic, explores the value of real, human interaction, and how marketers need to think ‘human to human’ instead of ‘brand to consumer’ in order to succeed in today’s climate.
2020 & 2021: the years where digital kept us connected – not just internationally, but at regional and even very local levels. For many businesses, digital was the saviour, ensuring business could continue – even grow.
Yet, while it may have initially seemed important for retailers to digitize brand strategy, ploughing efforts into everything from social media to website tools, so the brand would translate in a completely digital world, the fact is that people have realized more than ever the value of human interaction. How easy has it been, therefore, to remain truly connected to the people your brand speaks to?
A brand is not just what you do through your marketing tactics. It’s a feeling it stirs, an experience it creates, and a story it tells. While there are many amazing things brands can do in the digital world, to be a real success, brands need the human element to sit at the heart of their digital brand strategy.
The new marketing playbook
It’s safe to say that 2020 was a year like no other, and 2021 certainly has not reverted back to the ‘old normal’. In fact, the age of Covid-19 has upended the marketing playbook, challenging conceived truths and redefining the rules. Whilst digital strategies were accelerated across all industries during the start of the pandemic as a matter of business survival, customer expectations have changed. Forget the slick digital journey and the ability to deliver exactly what a consumer wants, when they want it – that is now a given. Instead, customers expect their relationship to matter to you; and they expect your brand to stand for great values they can resonate with.
While delivering on these experiences requires organizations to place technology and data at the core of their marketing delivery, to sharpen their decision-making and drive greater relevance in their customer interactions to build stronger, more relevant connections, they also require something more. They require the ability to engender trust – and that, in itself demands authenticity, integrity, and humanity.
So how do brands become human?
Building human engagement
We must remember that our target consumers are not just defined by demographics or psychographics — they’re defined by their intent, and by countless other indiscernible or unquantifiable factors. In essence, our prospective customers — just like us — are more than what meets the eye. Brands must ensure they’re both representative, and fully aware and understanding, of the most important issues and key drivers influencing all consumers’ behaviors.
By building teams that are as diverse as your customers, and by ‘stepping into the shoes’ of your customers as often as possible, brands can help account for their many perspectives and needs, bringing a more authentic voice to all marketing communications and content.
Indeed, authenticity is critical when it comes to forming connections between brands and consumers. With 86% of consumers reporting that authenticity is a deciding factor when determining which brands to support, the more authentic you are in your communications, the greater the sense of transparency and trust you will engender with them, which will lead to loyalty.
During the pandemic, marketing was elevated within the C-suite as the voice of the consumer. Without understanding the zeitgeist of the marketplace, in good times and bad, the C-suite cannot adjust to the threats and opportunities at hand and successfully navigate the future.
One of the new ‘rules’ of post-Covid marketing is, therefore, C-level engagement. In order to be authentic in your communications as a marketer, you need a deep understanding of who your brand is: what its values are; what its tone and voice are; who its key customers are – all of which are of paramount importance to other functional leaders.
From there, you can craft authentic communications that accurately reflect your brand personality while uncovering the pain points of your target audience. Everything from style to word choice to the visual elements you include is part of what gives a brand personality, and should be carefully crafted and honed to connect with your target customer(s). Moreover, developing a personality that responds to how customers are feeling and acting at the moment, and is authentically reflective of that across every touchpoint a customer has with your brand, is key to developing trust.
Consider, for example, how a company like Bombas has made improving the lives of people facing housing insecurity a key element of its brand ethos and product strategy, or how Old Navy has made all clothing styles accessible to people of all shapes and sizes with no change in price. During the pandemic, the British Heart Foundation also demonstrated empathy by offering Covid-secure collection of donations normally dropped off at collection points, for those who perhaps didn’t want to, or couldn’t, leave their homes. These are brand personalities with an authentic vision and a clarity of purpose behind them to which consumers can align their own values.
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Ultimately, becoming ‘more human’ starts with being human and therefore having a point of view; a tone; a look and feel. In essence, in today’s climate, marketers need to think ‘human-to-human’ instead of ‘brand-to-consumer’.