Marketing needs a fresh approach. Tech solutions and social media connectivity may be game changing tools that brands can manipulate to great effect, but they’re still just that – tools to be used not principles to be followed. We all need to hear the digital message loud and clear – handle me with care.
Modern multi-channel marketing is indispensable, but it’s worth remembering that at each end of a digital connection there is human intelligence at work. Fail to think human from top to toe and a personalised email or promoted Instagram post can become less welcome than an unsolicited phone call about PPI. Today, most customers are just as savvy, tech enabled and knowledgeable as the brands that want to sell to them. They know when to question motives and they also know where the line is drawn between personalisation and invasion of privacy.
Even Google has been forced to accept that people don’t seem to like having the content of their personal emails scanned for advertising purposes. Brands who slip into this kind of short term thinking also miss out on the opportunity to promote their business as a human first enterprise that genuinely values its customers.
Exponential growth of connectivity and access to information has undoubtedly led shoppers to more rigorously question the products they buy. It has never been easier to uncover the sugar content of a ‘healthy’ yogurt or question the effect that a ‘dream’ cruise could have on global warming. Knowledge is power and knowledge that is so easily shared will, increasingly, become a crucial driver of brand success or failure. Marketing can only win by understanding that its target audience demands genuine, trustworthy and human connection.
Our recent consumer research reveals that trust is the number one quality that consumers value in brand communications. Transparency and truthfulness are what the customer wants and, ultimately, are the best way to build the loyalty and social communities that modern marketing seeks to nurture. Great marketers understand that marketing activations do not happen in isolation. No matter how creative and newsworthy or personalised and relevant, individual communications are just a pixel in the complex picture of desirability. Brand messages don’t just get accepted, they get scrutinised too.
So, does this mean successful brands have to be perfect? No. The brands we admire accept the impossibility of getting everything right, all the time. Faced with a problem, they open up rather than cover up. The outdoor clothing brand, Patagonia, is a great example of this. Although it flags up that 1% of all sales are redirected to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment, it is also transparent about the way in which this brand message is challenged by the realities of its supply chain. The for-profit company’s bold and complicated ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ ad was risky and exposing, but ultimately succeeded in coming across as a genuine attempt to get people to start thinking about sustainable consumption. For Patagonia, while clarity about the purpose of the product is the key marketing issue, complex global issues which impact their customers’ lives cannot and should not be ignored or denied.
Such transparency can be of real value to brands who want to maximise the community building potential of digital and social media, and demonstrates a holistic approach that can work for any brand, whatever the channel, by communicating willingness to act in an ethical, if imperfect, human way.
This human led approach to marketing is supported by findings from neuroscience which demonstrate that receptiveness is enhanced if digital messages are presented in a humanised way. Our report highlights some key attributes that position brands as human-centric, trustworthy businesses and identifies a broad range of marketers who have built successful strategies around the four key principles of empathy, confidence, responsiveness and surprise. Although the particular emphasis is individual, all of the marketers identified in our report have developed successful marketing campaigns around them.
Researching the way in which brands have adapted to the demands of modern marketing has proved inspirational. Our report highlights some of the ways in which thinking human has allowed marketers to develop the integrated strategies they need to meet the challenge and opportunity offered by the internet era.
The marketers leading the way for a new marketing mindset include Linda Boff, CEO of General Electric, whose work emphasises the need for any brand to prioritise what it can do for all of its stakeholders and champions the need to communicate experience and insight in a fully human way. She aims to put this at the heart all brand communications and marketing messages whether they are delivered in person, by social media, or even by drone.
Charlotte Ashburner of Brown Forman also demonstrates the way in which a brand can benefit from focusing on central human values, in her case those values come from an inspirational founder. Living and breathing this fully humanised message has enabled Jack Daniels to develop a clear brand identity and a community of engaged customers both on and off line.
Empathy, responsiveness and the confidence to present the brand in a surprising way are epitomised by Nationwide’s recent, high profile campaign which was overseen by CMO, Sarah Bennison. By quite literally showing that the brand was listening to real people, the campaign made it clear that thinking human can work for anyone, even a giant financial brand in our era of technology, change and uncertainty.
Marketing doesn’t have a choice about change, technology is ensuring that it must keep pace. But that doesn’t mean that marketers can’t use all the human insights at their disposal to navigate the future. Indeed, human ideas are still our greatest asset and the best guide to complex change and connectivity.