That cru­cial hu­man touch

The best mar­keters not only tell us what a brand stands for, but also in­di­cate how it feels, be­haves and lives. Suc­cess­ful brands spend time where we spend time. They fit into our lives ef­fort­lessly. They pro­vide in­for­ma­tion, ideas and so­lu­tions. They off

Point of Purchase - - INTERNATIONAL - SHARON LOVE is chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of TPN, a brand-cen­tric re­tail mar­ket­ing agency with clients in­clud­ing 7-Eleven, Bank of Amer­ica, The Clorox Com­pany, Pep­siCo and The Her­shey Com­pany. She can be reached at sharon_love-@-tp­n­inc.com.

The brand’s role as a friend and guide is truer in to­day’s wire­less world than ever be­fore. Tech­nol­ogy has sig­nif­i­cantly in­flu­enced us as hu­mans — how we think, be­have, con­nect, and com­mu­ni­cate. We man­age re­la­tion­ships and share our lives via Face­book. We con­nect with friends, “friends” and fam­ily across the globe. We shop 24 hours a day from any­where with our fin­ger­tips. We text, tweet, and pin about the mean­ing­ful and the minu­tia. And so do our beloved brands. Ob­vi­ously, evolv­ing tech­nol­ogy is a ma­jor game changer that touches prac­ti­cally ev­ery as­pect of our lives. It changes how we ob­tain, process and store in­for­ma­tion; com­mu­ni­cate and en­gage with oth­ers; shop, work, and en­ter­tain … the list could be end­less. Tech­nol­ogy has also ab­so­lutely changed the face of re­tail — both prod­uct and the process, for both con­sumer and shop­per, have been ex­po­nen­tially af­fected. So, the ques­tion to­day is: Has all this tech­nol­ogy al­tered the for­mula for a great brand? A ba­sic univer­sal truth about brands is that if they don’t change and evolve, they die. Or, at a min­i­mum, they face on­go­ing strug­gles of wan­ing rel­e­vance, eq­uity ero­sion, and de­clin­ing sales, to name a few. So, the evo­lu­tion of a brand is not new, but what can we draw upon to­day, given the dy­namic land­scape, that will help us cre­ate and main­tain a healthy and vi­brant brand? We might start by look­ing at what Coke is do­ing with its Open Hap­pi­ness cam­paign. Coke in­stalled a vend­ing ma­chine at the Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore. It looks like an or­di­nary ma­chine, fes­tooned in the brand’s iconic red and white. But in­stead of its logo, this ma­chine says, “Hug Me,” in the fa­mous Coca-Cola Spence­rian script. And in­stead of money, this ma­chine re­sponds to the cur­rency of hugs. Specif­i­cally, you have to squeeze the sides of the soda dis­penser in a spe­cific way to make a free Coke come out. Not only is this ex­am­ple in­tu­itively and mem­o­rably aligned with Coke’s Open Hap­pi­ness cam­paign, but it uses in­no­va­tion to bring the con­sumer/brand con­nec­tion off­line and into a phys­i­cal space. It di­rectly con­nects a hu­man­ized brand ex­pe­ri­ence with the prod­uct con­sump­tion. It cre­ates buzz that can thrive both in off­line and on­line so­cial net­work­ing. And what is more hu­man than a hug? Coke bril­liantly used tech­nol­ogy to hu­man­ize its brand. Great brands have al­ways had the hu­man touch. Their eq­uity has a solid foun­da­tion built on fea­tures, traits, ra­tio­nal and emo­tional ben­e­fits, per­son­al­ity, tone, voice, essence and char­ac­ter. We talk about shared val­ues, and ul­ti­mately in the best cases, “brand love” is the re­sult. The con­nec­tion with a brand is de­fined in terms of the word — love — that we use to de­scribe our most cher­ished hu­man re­la­tion­ships. Brands that earn our love set­tle for no less than con­stant in­no­va­tion, not only in terms of their prod­ucts but also in per­son­al­iz­ing their con­nec­tion in new and in­ven­tive ways. This hu­man­iza­tion of a brand can be lit­eral, as in the case of, say, Aunt Jemima syrup, or more fig­u­ra­tive in the sense of bring­ing a very hu­man as­pect to the way the brand is mar­keted. Take GranataPet brand dog food, for in­stance. The brand ef­fec­tively ap­plies tech­nol­ogy to ac­ti­vate a bill­board in a man­ner that repli­cates an al­most hu­man in­ter­ac­tion. The brand (through an in­ter­ac­tive touch­point) shares a taste of its new dog food with its furry friends. As owner and pup pass the bill­board on a pop­u­lar dog walk­ing path, the owner checks in via Foursquare and a tasty dog food sam­ple slides out of a dis­penser and into the bowl … ready to en­joy! The bill­board isn’t too com­pli­cated, as the check-ins are sent to a server that is con­nected to a box, which con­trols the dis­penser. Not only is this a war­mand-fuzzy ex­pe­ri­ence for owner and pet that hu­man­izes the brand, but it is a con­nec­tion that sends a strong brand mes­sage and si­mul­ta­ne­ously en­gages the shop­per. Let’s not for­get de­light­ing the end user … the dog. In this case, a smart brand de­liv­ers a so­lu­tion which fires on yet an­other cylin­der. Know­ing that dog own­ers who hu­man­ize their pets are more likely to buy high-end dog food, the brand cre­ated a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence to tap into that in­sight. While the no­tion of brand hu­man­iza­tion is not new, a brand be­hav­ing as a hu­man to­day, ver­sus even five years ago, is a new ball­game. Choos­ing where to be and what to com­mu­ni­cate is more com­plex than ever be­fore. The process of de­ter­min­ing touch­points and un­der­stand­ing how they are in­ter­con­nected, in­ter­act and what the re­sult is, is com­pli­cated by the vast op­por­tu­ni­ties present in to­day’s land­scape. How can we get a han­dle on the in­te­gra­tion of these ac­tiv­i­ties? How can we op­ti­mize, con­trol, and mea­sure as it re­lates not only to sales but our brand eq­uity de­vel­op­ment? The re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence it­self is a great place to start, given that the store is where the cash reg­is­ter rings. As a medium, it is in­her­ently mea­sur­able and ac­count­able. Be­cause it is an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence that touches the five senses, it has a tremen­dous ca­pac­ity to build brand iden­tity both for the re­tailer as well as the brands on the shelves. Of course, the av­er­age shop­ping ex­cur­sion to­day is not ex­actly a hu­man­iz­ing event — in fact some would say that too of­ten it is just the op­po­site. How­ever, therein lies the op­por­tu­nity. Mar­ket­ing is largely the art of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, and the bar is so low in the vast ma­jor­ity of re­tail en­vi­ron­ments that it doesn’t take much to stand out. Most im­por­tant, if the ob­jec­tive is to hu­man­ize a brand, where bet­ter to do that than in a place that is pop­u­lated by peo­ple? Yes, tech­nol­ogy en­ables

us to find the low­est price on our smart­phones, and we can avoid hu­man contact al­to­gether if we choose the self-check­out lane. But peo­ple are still peo­ple and we are so­cial an­i­mals. We like to in­ter­act, and the growth of e-com­merce and m-com­merce not­with­stand­ing, we still go shop­ping in the real world, love it or loathe it. Proc­ter & Gam­ble has hu­man­ized this by line-ex­tend­ing its Tide brand not into yet an­other it­er­a­tion of laun­dry de­ter­gent, but into a fran­chise of dryclean­ing stores. It has also launched a chain of car washes un­der the Mr. Clean brand name. The idea is to con­vert what is his­tor­i­cally a dreary ex­pe­ri­ence (most of the dry clean­ers I’ve fre­quented look like sweat shops) into some­thing pleas­ant that’s all about serv­ing cus­tomer needs and mak­ing their day a lit­tle bet­ter. The Tide and Mr. Clean brand iden­ti­ties can only grow stronger in the process. Nike is hu­man­iz­ing by open­ing stores that match the pre­vail­ing sports cul­ture in any given community. If a town is pop­u­lated by run­ners, Nike opens a store of run­ning equip­ment. If it’s mostly a bas­ket­ball kind of community, it’s a bas­ket­ball store for them. Nike is not just sell­ing gear; it is con­nect­ing with its con­sumers on a very hu­man level by serv­ing their pas­sions. It is too easy to dis­miss these ex­am­ples by say­ing that P&G and Nike are some­how dif­fer­ent be­cause, well, they’re P&G and Nike. We hear that all the time about brands like Ap­ple and Star­bucks, too. But they are all in what are oth­er­wise best de­scribed as com­mod­ity busi­nesses — house­hold cleansers, sneak­ers, con­sumer elec­tron­ics and cof­fee. It now seems like a very long time ago (prob­a­bly be­cause it was) that the cof­fee busi­ness was Maxwell House and Fol­gers killing each other on price, bat­tling to be the pre-em­i­nent brand of vac­uum-packed cof­fee on the su­per­mar­ket shelf. And then Star­bucks came along and pre­sented a cup of cof­fee within the con­text of the com­mu­ni­ties it served. Star­bucks did an artful job of tak­ing a pre­vi­ously non-de­script prod­uct and hu­man­iz­ing it. They changed the game: no tech­nol­ogy re­quired. No dis­cus­sion of how re­tail can hu­man­ize a brand is com­plete with­out men­tion­ing Trader Joe’s. True, theirs is a re­tail brand but much, if not most, of what they sell is un­der their own la­bel. Both the prod­ucts them­selves and the way they are pack­aged and pre­sented ooze with per­son­al­ity. Most im­por­tant, their brand iden­tity is premised on a keen un­der­stand­ing of their shop­pers and how they live their lives — ad­ven­tur­ous types, but on a bud­get. TJ’s fa­mously caps its re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence with the rarest form of hu­man­ity — a cour­te­ous, and even friendly, check­out. Brand de­vel­op­ment is still both an art and a sci­ence. How­ever, more ad­vanced and pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics are en­ter­ing the pic­ture. We now have the abil­ity to look at brands and their mar­ket­ing ef­forts not on a mar­ket, but an in­di­vid­u­al­ized level. Ad­vanced mod­el­ing can repli­cate hu­man be­hav­ior within the model to de­velop a col­lec­tive pic­ture of in­di­vid­ual re­sponses to a brand’s ef­forts. We can mea­sure the ef­fects that word-of-mouth and so­cial net­work­ing have in re­sponse to spe­cific mes­sages and me­dia, while also con­sid­er­ing the in­ter­con­nec­tion of their other com­bined ef­forts. So, we can cer­tainly mea­sure the hu­man­iza­tion of brand, but what is it in a nut­shell? In the end, de­vel­op­ment of a great brand isn’t re­ally all that dif­fer­ent at its core than it has al­ways been. It re­quires the ba­sic el­e­ments — depth of un­der­stand­ing your tar­get, a brand ar­chi­tec­ture and essence that has rel­e­vance, con­nec­tiv­ity at ap­pro­pri­ate touch­points, and in­no­va­tion to main­tain in­ter­est and mean­ing for your tar­get. At the same time, we can’t ig­nore that tech­nol­ogy has ex­po­nen­tially changed the ways and rate at which we all en­gage, and the need to feel con­nec­tion is more pro­nounced than ever. To drive mean­ing­ful brand eq­uity, cor­re­lated loy­alty and brand love, we need to be re­lat­able to how our tar­gets live their lives to­day. Hu­man­iz­ing a brand is one way to hold mar­keters ac­count­able for cre­at­ing a brand that un­der­stands our tar­get and thrives in their ever-chang­ing mind­set, be­hav­ior and sur­round­ings. If our ul­ti­mate goal is a bond — a con­sumer lov­ing a brand — then we need to demon­strate our love and earn theirs in re­turn. That is the best test of brand hu­man­ity and the ul­ti­mate mea­sure of brand ac­count­abil­ity.

Great brands have al­ways had the hu­man touch. Their eq­uity has a solid foun­da­tion built on fea­tures, traits, ra­tio­nal and emo­tional ben­e­fits, per­son­al­ity, tone, voice, essence and char­ac­ter. We talk about shared val­ues, and ul­ti­mately in the best cases, “brand love” is the re­sult. The con­nec­tion with a brand is de­fined in terms of the word — love — that we use to de­scribe our most cher­ished hu­man re­la­tion­ships

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