Should brands be more like humans? Or is the real goal to be “human-friendly” in form, behavior, and function? It’s something worth thinking about.
Most of us in the advertising/marketing/branding biz tend to anthropomorphize brands. We think and write about them as if they were living, breathing people.
However, in a thought-provoking piece, “The Human Paradox”, Gareth Kaye, Chief Strategy Officer of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, questions if that is the right approach:
“I’ve come to believe that this failure of brands is down to us blindly believing that brands that are more human are better. To my knowledge there is little, if any, evidence that supports this. This assumption masquerading as fact is stopping us building brands that are valuable to people. And it took an article in the MIT Technology Review to understand why.
“Leila Takayama’s Friendly Machines is a perspective on why we get frustrated with the limited capabilities of robots. She argues that we need to stop being obsessed with trying to make human-like robots and instead spend our efforts making robots that are more human-friendly in their form, behavior and function. Human-friendly rather than human-like. A subtle but important distinction.
“Now this might be a stretch but you could replace the word ‘robots’ in the above with ‘brands’. We keep trying to anthropomorphize brands (what’s the brand’s personality, tone, etc.) rather than trying to work out how we can make them more useful to people.”
Human-friendly and human-like?
I don’t have an issue about internal branding documents talking about brands in human terms. Indeed, I believe this helps brand owners, managers, and employees better understand, internalize, and act upon the desired nature, personality, and behavior of the brand.
However, I do believe that at a higher level brands must aim to be more human-friendly. Yes, they need to be more useful, as Mr. Kaye points out. But they also need to be more empathetic toward the people they engage (both inside and outside the company). Brands need to take a step back from their own issues and opportunities to walk in the shoes of people who are looking for more out of the relationships they have (including those with brands).
Great brands help people create meaning
People are looking to create more meaning in their lives. From brands, they want products that enable them in more ways that are clearly beneficial to their growth, health, and knowledge. They want products that are designed, built, and delivered in ways that respect workers and the environment.
Brands, through their form, behavior, and function, can increase their human-friendliness by seeing the world through the lens of the human quest for meaning.
From that perspective, emotion and meaning are the primary aims of branding. Brands should aim to make people say, “This feels good” (this is emotionally gratifying), and “This feels right” (this is meaningfully important).
Brands can create these feelings – and become more emotionally meaningful – not only through their products, but also through the way their people deal with each other and with the outside world. I don’t believe this is about advertising (which really should be used to sell products); this is about creating a way of being for your business that is human-friendly in every respect.
Emotive Brand is a brand strategy firm.