In time for Ad Week, Ad Age published the following article about ‘human’ being the most recent buzzword.
Hell yes! Damn straight! Buzzwords – boo!….Stop with the marketing jargonstipation!
Well, actually, I should back up and explain. I named my company – Keeping it Human – about 4 years ago before the “Human saturation” movement. It’s people! No, not Soylent Green; it’s People…well, marketing for, and about, people! It’s about stopping the robotic bullshit to better connect with employees and customers, and it was something that needed to be talked about. People used to ask me how to be a better marketer? My answer has never changed: Stop marketing, and start connecting by making conversations meaningful not ‘positioning’ exercises. Stop messaging and talking about customers like ‘targets’ with dollar signs for heads. So I talked about ‘human’ a LOT in 4, almost 5 years in order to change the state of marketing. In the last year – lots more marketers joined the growing chorus.
Buzzword…with a Cause
We’re seeing this buzzword (sadly) bandied about so pervasively because brands – especially in b2b – still have a long way to go towards being human. Jargon-filled, cold, distant, robotic marketing still permeates a lot of b2b – from financial services to legal to software, all with the same drumbeat nonsense: “Buy our stuff. We’re great. We have a cloud. Did I mention we’re cool (kids like that), so please buy more of our shit (I mean stuff…)!” Of course, I’ve also heard “Kathy, our clients are conservative and they would never go for that!” Yes, I have heard that a lot. If I had a nickel…here’s the thing: How do you know people won’t like it? You don’t. See, marketers are hearing the ‘human’ message – and yet, lots of companies aren’t really getting what ‘being human’ means.
For the record, I’ve talked with my clients’ ‘conservative customers.’ And 92.3% of them are human. And the thing about humans is they hate BS. I have asked many of these ‘conservative’ types about the marketing they read. Here’s the thing: they don’t. When asked why, one research participant eloquently put it: “It’s irrelevant garbage I wouldn’t send to people I hate.” Exactly – and ouch. When clients describe your marketing as devices of torture, you’ve blown it.
Human Whitewashing: When Being ‘Human’ Isn’t
Part of the issue with the over-saturation of “human” – and dare I say, the ‘eye-rolling’ backlash—is the fact that a lot of whitewashing is going on. Brands slap pictures and videos that are fun across their social media and call it a day. “Yep, we’re human. We have people on our website, you can call and get a human on the phone (that is important), and our social media is fun.” See, when you call it fun….it’s a sure sign it’s not…and that puts the FU in ‘fun.’
And, hey, I love fun. Fun is awesome and it’s a great first step. Yet, external “fun” is also incredibly cosmetic. Being human externally matters….but if we’re un-human internally, none of that branding crap matters. Employees are the biggest human champions we have in addition to customers and creating a place they want to work for and are proud to talk about matters. There are porous, fluid borders today between what happens internally and externally. What happens here internally does not stay here. So if you are treating branding like a trip to Vegas, remember success there is just like playing the blackjack table. The odds suggest you’ll lose.
Branding isn’t Cosmetic
Being human is more than branding; it also includes design thinking (it’s not a fad and it’s been around for a while) for creating products and services that solve human challenges. It means being open, transparent and ready to serve even when the contract or service doesn’t call for it. It means being open in creating and vetting new products before they are built because your best customers collaborated with you.
It means having a purpose-driven story that acts as a strategic GPS for the company – if a new initiative doesn’t fit the company story and values, then it doesn’t get resources. Your purpose must stand for something bigger than your products and services. IBM’s ‘Smarter Planet’ message, Chipotle’s ‘Food with Integrity,’ TOMS Shoes’ ‘One for One’ movement…are all examples of a having a vision bigger than the company and one that other human beings can rally around. Being ‘human’ means collaborating internally and externally because customers truly own the “story.” It means enabling and empowering your employees to blog and to be stewards of the company’s story – because your internal experts – not marketing – add value to your customer relationships.
Ultimately being human is putting people at the center of everything you do – the way you operate, the way employees think, the way products are designed for human challenges, they way you treat social media as tools for discussion long before you have something to “sell.” Being human is about internally healthy companies made for people by people – who actually give a crap and want to work there. I don’t want to buy crap from companies whose employees don’t give a crap. Because crap is all you will ever get.
Marketing has never been about marketing. It’s always been about people. Your job with marketing is giving people a reason to give a crap.
‘Human’ Stems From Valuing People In Everything
Being human is about all of these things and how they work together – it’s an internal way of operating. Without it, no brand botox will hold up, even in the short-run. Humanizing has never been about cosmetic surgery – it starts with the values and genuine purpose of the company. Too many brands have scratched the surface of what being human is, and being human is a commitment for the long-haul. It’s baked in; it’s not the friggin’ icing.
And most of this ‘human buzzword bingo’ game played by the media has focused on external marketing. That’s just part of it. Someday, ‘human’ won’t have to be called out. We’ll just say ‘branding’ or ‘marketing’ and being human will be part of it. It will have to be in order to be better.
But we’re not there yet. Not based on what I see regularly. Until then ‘being human’ remains an urgent, if not partially annoying message for CMOs to embrace.
Psst, b2b, I’m looking (mainly) at you. And, hey, B2C, don’t get cocky. You have work to do, too.
This will surely help me leverage my people-centric product to manifest higher margins.
Seriously, what’s so hard about just being real? United Airline’s social media team tried it and made a big impression on a high volume customer this week:
Then they got scared and retreated into humorless corporate conservatism.
Be human. Or don’t. Either way it helps me make purchasing decisions.
“This will surely help me leverage my people-centric product to manifest higher margins….” Love it.
I love your example, Arthur. So true. It’s not that hard. Companies MAKE it hard. God forbid someone go off the brand script!
There is no silver bullet or formula. It’s not the edgy stuff that companies do that scores a big hit for every 100 daily interactions. It’s the everyday communication – is it friendly, helpful, approachable, non-jargon laden and genuine? And fun matters. Yet even fun can be seen as gimmicky if it’s not part of the company’s every day brand. Human = real, people-centered, not gimmicky or fringe. Stop looking for the template, companies!
Be human and real or go home.