Max Lenderman
CEO & Founder
  • School
Originally Posted

July 6, 2017

The more human a brand can become, the more likely it will grow.

Flawesome.” I love this word. I read of it in some marketing story or blog and although I can’t seem to find its exact source — although Tyra Banks does come up a lot – I really like its applicability to brand building and brand growth. This notion of “flawesome” creates a unique situation where brands stop saying what they are not and start doing what they are. By admitting and exposing their flaws, brave brands become more awesome in the eyes of their audiences.

The notion of “flawesome” is also quite human. We are naturally drawn to people who are authentic and self-aware and tend to be repelled by those who are fake and self-aggrandizing. I think we are appropriating the same human behaviors to the brands we buy. And the more human a brand can become, the more likely it will grow.

A confection brand may admit to the fact that sugar isn’t good for us and will act to make more healthy products and launch healthier brands. A CPG company can bravely admit to its carbon footprint or resource depletion flaws and then take big, bold and story-worthy steps in mitigating or eradicating those flaws. A massive tech company can fess up to its off-shoring strategies and yet create massive job growth opportunities and actions at home.

This kind of authenticity triggers an emotional rather than rational response on our part. We can start to empathize more with the brand (more on that below) and the brand becomes instantly relatable and therefore approachable. My apologies if I am anthropomorphizing brands too much or too simplistically, I only do so because that’s how we as consumers tend to do it. We believe that we are thinking beings who have feelings. Instead, we are feeling beings who have thoughts. And the better brands connect with feelings over thoughts, the more likely we’ll like them. A more human brand is the key, it seems, to a growing brand.

Be Emotional

The first step for a brand to become more human is simple: lead with emotion.

There are so many emotions to choose from that I am sure a brand can find its own levers. In the age of ad overkill and programmatic cacophony, finding emotive brand expressions is really important. When advertising over-supply meets consumer under-demand, a more human-centric brand has a fighting chance at relevancy and affinity.

DDB has been pioneering the “unreasonable” theory of consumer behavior. Led by the Australia and New Zealand practices, the thinking challenges the long-standing business premise that growth is anchored to a consumer who makes reasonable and logical decisions to advance their lifestyle. The more reasonable and efficient a brand behaves, the less human it becomes. DDB Australia CEO Andrew Little says this represents a paradigm shift in theories of business management. “All the evidence suggests that behaving in a reasonable, rational fashion is possibly the most dangerous thing a business can do. Unreasonable growth – real, tangible, exponential growth – rarely comes from acting reasonably.”

Practice Empathy

To get there, brand leaders should elevate empathy and empathetic design thinking into their strategies.

Because from now on, their job is to create products and services that address people’s needs and motivations in real and compelling ways. When people feel like their needs and wants are being better-served by certain brands, they tend to trust them more. All over the world, people’s attitudes toward brands that embrace empathy and social change are fundamentally shifting the creative work that is breaking through and influencing culture. The marketing and advertising industry is evolving in front of our eyes in order to meet and serve this change.

Serve and Observe

Creating a culture of attentiveness to customer needs is the second way for brands and companies to become more human.

Brands should move away from focus grouping their customers and start co-creating with them instead. Even diving deep and wide into tools like C Space will give marketers the opportunity to create deeper engagements with people, leading to more relevant and authentic insights. At School, we build virtual communities that are customized for each brand partner and work side-by-side with them to mine insights and validate our own assumptions. A sample custom community can be composed of brand loyalist and agnostics, category experts and culture influencers who act as a micro-ecosystem of ideas, opinions and actions. Observing and listening to people is something many of us have forgotten to do. Maybe it’s time we flex those muscles once again.

Lead with Experiential

Ten years ago, I wrote a book called Experience the Message: How Experiential Marketing Is Changing the Brand World, positing that brand experiences will be the cornerstone of modern marketing.

This week, the 2017 Freeman Global Brand Experience Study showed that “more than one in three CMOs expects to set aside 21 to 50 percent of their budgets for brand experiences, including events, trade shows, sponsorships, exhibits, permanent installations, virtual or augmented reality experiences and/or pop-ups.” And 9 in 10 marketers agree that brand experience delivers more compelling engagement and strong face-to-face interaction. So if brands want to be more human, they need to do things in the real world with real people in real time.

The greatest unsung benefit of creating brand experiences over brand creative is the inherent feedback loop that comes with doing real things in the real world. The audience will respond – positively or negatively – and it won’t take a focus group or ad show to tell you if you’ve done a good job of providing a memorable and resonant experience. And that’s really what “flawesome” is all about: accepting that there might be flaws but committed to being awesome anyway.

Stand for Something

We Believers chief creative officer Gustavo Lauria believes that “for brands to be successful today, it is no longer about being the best in the world—but rather, being the best for the world and taking a real stance.”

This premise is the reason why I started my agency School – we also believe. We believe in human-centric media like digital, social and experiential to be the best and most effective levers for behavior change. We believe that brands are made up of people who are responsible for people. We believe that purpose is the new digital and that good is the new cool. We believe that if a brand doesn’t stand for something, it won’t stand out.

We’re not the only ones. If you take a look at the Cannes winners this year, you will clearly see a trend toward more purpose-led and meaningful work – work that tries to right a wrong, relieve a malady, provide justice or invent better tools for social advancement. The highest awards at the show (Titanium) were bestowed on four campaigns that empower and embolden: “Fearless Girl” for State Street Global Advisors, “My Mutant Brain” for Kenzo, “Refugee Nation” for Amnesty International and “Boost Your Voice” for Boost Mobile.

This work proves that brands that are more human can create more human-centric work. And is there anything more human than love, defiance, self-expression and altruism? The more we as an industry push into purpose-led work, the more human the brands we steer will become.