There’s a growing expectation for brands to be transparent, accountable and to connect with people on their terms - and what this looks like is constantly evolving. Brands need to become more human, and digital plays a significant role in creating more meaningful connections.
Before the 90s, there wasn’t really such thing as a ‘customer voice’. Brands could set the dialogue with their customers and rely on glossy image-based campaigns rather than values-based actions. Ultimately, the terms of consumer connections were dictated by brands.
Digital platforms and technology disrupted this long-held power dynamic. All of a sudden (thanks to good old 90s chatrooms), conversations went from one-way brand discourse to two-way conversations. It amplified opinion sharing and gave consumers a real voice for the first time. It also saw the rise of the digitally empowered consumer: today people have more information, choice and power at their fingertips than ever before.
For brands, it was the impetus for a new model for building trusted connections.
As humans, we have a fundamental need to bond and connect. Our need to connect transcends people - it extends to organisations and brands as well.
Trust is a prerequisite for meaningful connections. However, institutionalised trust continues to erode rapidly, further accelerated by fake news, greenwashing, privacy breaches and recent world events. This volatility leaves us craving authenticity and realness.
Human brands are those that ‘keep it real’. They embody human traits and characteristics. They show true empathy. They are honest and transparent. They demonstrate a future mindset. They acknowledge that consumer trust isn’t a given, rather that it needs to be built and earned.
Show, Not Just Tell: Brand storytelling helps to create an emotional bond with consumers, but increasingly people also want to see the truth behind the product. This is about brands showing what’s behind the curtain to give more transparency over how something is made in order to guarantee authenticity. Fashion brands (such as Patagonia, Everlane, The RealReal) are pioneering the way, leveraging technology such as blockchain and more holistic e-commerce interactions to adopt a model of radical transparency.
Made For Me: Customisation is commonplace, but the new frontier is about hyper-personalisation with a human touch. It’s the human element that can help infuse a more emotional connection. Digital-only UK bank Starling leverages tech to enable customers to connect with them on their terms (and is winning on customer experience, voted Best British Bank in 2018, 2019 and 2020). Google Home is used to enable the bank’s customers to carry out balance enquiries and payments through voice commands.
A Better Tomorrow, Today: It’s not just relying on past achievements and brand heritage to build trust, it’s demonstrating a commitment to the future by finding solutions for real problems we face (either as individuals or as a society). In the world of luxury vehicles where legacy traditionally comes from past performance, Tesla is anticipating the future, seeking to transition the world to sustainable energy.
Digital plays an increasingly important role for human brands. Whether it’s facilitating two-way conversations (FYI, meaningful connection can’t be formed in one direction!), increasing transparency, helping to deliver ‘made for me’ experiences or empowering people to be the brand, digital tools and technology is often at the heart of human brands.
How are you putting people and their experiences front and centre of your digital strategy and executions?
How can digital help level out the playing field between people and brands? How can digital channels encourage reciprocity in new ways?
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Starburst Insights is a research agency based in Melbourne. We use consumer insights to uncover what truly matters to people to help brands better connect.