The Case for ‘Human Centric’ Brands
Jun 4, 2019
Recently I was sitting next to an airline passenger who was a long-term, high valued member of the airline we were flying with. Once he realized I was in marketing, we chatted about how things had changed the last couple of years for him as a customer.
He told me he’d never been more connected with all the digital services the airline had to offer, as well as all the deals and rewards. But he bemoaned how everything was now automated – and how all the little personal touches, such as getting his favorite seat from the check-in staff, had all but disappeared.
He was bombarded by gadgets and deals and rewards, but had felt less and less understood as an individual person.
He was considering switching his loyalty after 20 years with this airline. Yet I’ll bet you anything that airline looks at this customer’s numbers and thinks he is a loyal and happy customer. I’m sure the brand team thinks – ‘just look how quickly and efficiently we deal with him now?’
This situation is far from unique. Customer experience surveys from both Gartner & Forrester over the last few years show a plateau in customer satisfaction globally.
And a recent study of this issue by MIT and published in the Harvard Business Review noted how many brands, driven by digital transformation, had improved their online experiences markedly, driven by huge investments in technology.
But they also highlighted that while digital platforms had often delivered well when it comes to simplicity and cost efficiencies, brands were doing poorly on their ability to provide a consistent and ‘human’ customer experience.
And the effect of this on customer brand affinity and growth has been profoundly negative.
It seems while it’s never been easier for brands to create a connection to customers using technology, it’s never been more important to also connect with customers as human beings.
And yet brands have been failing miserably on this lately.
Why? We think it’s three main things.
The first challenge is that an increasing focus on quarterly returns means brands have been investing in shorter term sales initiatives, often at the expense of long term brand building activities.
Short-termism has been talked about a lot recently by big brands, marketing commentators, and agencies of late – and the message is surprisingly consistent. We need to get back to the marketing fundamentals of balancing short term sales activation with long term brand development. Otherwise brand growth will continue to suffer at the expense of the current efficiency imperative.
The second change is that customers simply expect more from brands nowadays. The recent Global Study on Meaningful Brands by Havas notes that while customers are naturally interested in what the brand can deliver for them first, increasingly they are also interested in the effects their brand consumption has on other people, the community and the planet.
And it’s not necessarily altruism driving this concern. The reality these days is that it’s more difficult to enjoy the products you buy when you know they contribute to the polluted air you breathe. Or when you realize the online mega-store you love to buy from buy is a major reason that all your favorite local shops are shutting down.
It’s getting harder and harder, given the challenges of modern life, to disconnect the direct benefits to me from the impact my consumption has on other people and the environment in which I live. All these experiences are now crashing into each other – leading to a far more holistic view of customer experience.
This brings us to the third – and perhaps the biggest – challenge faced by brands.
The age of digital transformation in the last few years has often seen brand customer experiences delivered by technology companies. It was only a few years ago when many brands sent most of their marketing teams to be trained by Facebook and Google, virtually outsourcing their platforms, data and customer experience.
And yet more recently these same technology companies have been culpable in in spreading fake news and information, and using excessive data collection and surveillance to drive their advertising business model.
From brand marketers this was made even worse by disclosures of massive digital ad fraud, the frequent overstating of ad metrics, and a worrying lack of accountability from big tech when it came to creating an advertising environment where brand safety and customer privacy was respected.
While most brands are still partners with YouTube, Facebook, Google, et al.. there is a realization that the goals of big tech and consumer brands are often not aligned. And they simply cannot be trusted to execute the type of customer experiences that a brand’s consumers now expects.
The honeymoon really is over.
As a result successful brands and their agencies – have worked hard the last couple of years to take back control of their brand platforms, consumer data and the overall brand experience. And to start integrating these effectively to achieve meaningful growth.
We call this the movement from a Customer Centric Brand – which focused entirely too much on operational efficiencies – to becoming a Human Centric Brand focused on building effective brand growth.
Human Centric Brands understand the need to balance the technology and innovation that customers want, with a far better human customer experience they now expect.
Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because our continued brand growth and success relies on us re-connecting with the sort of outcomes that people really want today.
Just like the disgruntled airline customer I met recently, who noted – ‘I just wish they’d they get back to treating me like a valued individual, not just a high value number’.
It’s timely, and timeless reminder. We’re not building brands for machines.
We’re creating brands for humans.
May this never change.