I Don’t Want You to Humanize Your Brand
Peter Kim wrote a great post titled, “Can Brands Be Human?” It was a refreshing perspective (amidst the 1,001 posts out there with x number of tips for humanizing your brand), pointing out that sometimes when brands act human, we still get mad at them. His example was when branded twitter accounts put up posts on 9/11--even genuine, heartfelt ones--and caught flack for being perceived as commercializing that day. His conclusion:
For years, brands have been advised to use social media to be more "human" -- but it seems to me that consumers will never let that happen, no matter how hard brands try.
I can't help but focus on the end of that sentence: no matter how hard brands try. This is the second time in the last few weeks that the idea of "brand" has gotten under my skin. Maybe I need someone to educate me on what "brand" really is (I would welcome that, actually), but from my view, brands can't try. Brands can't humanize. Why? Because brands are abstractions.
I looked up the definition of "humanize" in the dictionary: to make humane, kind, or gentle. Then I looked up "personify": to represent (a thing or an abstraction) in the form of a person.
A brand is an abstraction, and with all the talk of humanizing our brands, what I think we're really talking about is personifying them. We want the abstraction of "brand" to be contained within Sandy, the person who tweets for the brand. We think this is cool, because before our brand was mostly influenced by our advertising and annoying messages we pushed on consumers. Now our brand can be embodied by a cool person that our consumers can relate to. Sweet!
No. Sandy is Sandy, and maybe she loves working for your company, but she will never be the brand. And the brand will not be more human just because she tweets, because the brand is a big abstraction. I don't want a relationship with an abstraction. I want a relationship with a person. I want to get to know Sandy, which I can't do if all she tweets about is your next sale or how awesome your products are all the time. Humans don't do that. Brands do. I don't want your brand to be more human. I want the humans in your organization to be finally given the permission to be more human themselves.
When I talk about humanizing an organization, I mean changing how we lead and manage and operate in ways that tap into the power of being human. Social media is great for that, because it allows us to be authentic, which is very deeply human. It allows us to build relationships, which is very deeply human. When we tap into that human element, we find a whole lot of power. Can this affect your brand? Sure. When I interact with the humans in your company who are supported in being authentic, I'm getting a different feeling. Those people tweeting for you are actually interacting with me. Maybe being funny. Listening to me. Telling the truth. As a human, I really like that. That glow is going to rub off on your brand--that abstraction I hold in my head about what your company/product is and what it means to me. But the abstraction didn't get more human.
So Peter Kim is right. I'm never going to let you humanize your brand. So stop trying. And start trying to humanize your organization instead. Your brand will thank you.