If you’re serious about building a brand strategy fit for the coming decade, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and get ready to change how you deliver every aspect of your product or service.

In 2020, the brands successfully positioning themselves for growth are those that focus on delivering a human-centric brand experience. It’s time to stop treating people transactionally and start caring about them as human beings. Rather than bore you with a lot of words, let’s dive straight into some very illuminating numbers:

  • 86% of consumers will pay more for a better customer experience
  • People are willing to spend 47% more on brands that treat them like humans, not clients
  • People are willing to spend 13% more with a brand that has a consistent experience across every touchpoint
  • Only 19% of customers feel brands welcome complaints as a way to improve products/services 

Putting Human Experience Front And Centre

This article is an introduction to the concept of a human-centred brand experience strategy and will get you thinking about where you currently have weaknesses and where there might be opportunities for improvement.  It’s not intended to be a guide to implementing a human experience (HX) strategy; that would take a whole book and it would all depend on your business, your market, your customers, and how you are already structured.

The shortcut I use to quickly get people understanding the viewpoint I’m coming from is this quote from Gapingvoid:

If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.

Hugh MacLeod, Gapingvoid
Illustration from Gapingvoid, Hugh MacLeod quote - If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face

If you already use content marketing, you’re off to a good start. Content marketing is all about offering high value to users, so it’s a great first step in building a positive brand experience. But you need to go further. Stop stalking people online. Stop trying to wear them down into buying from you and instead allow consumer choices to be the result of free and positive decision-making.

Decision-Making Is Contextual

Think of all the decisions you make which are split-second and based on what you might call ‘your gut’. The fact is, your brain has taken all the available data and come to a decision which is part logic and part emotion. The decision you made is unique to you and is affected by all the little things that make you who you are: your expectations, your preferences, your past experiences, your immediate needs, your long-term goals, etc., etc.

But that’s not how traditional marketing works. A classic marketing approach is to create ‘personas’ (made up people) and then work out ways to ‘target’ (stalk) them online. They’ll come up with a story about who prospects are and how they make purchases which will look something like this:

Sensible Sally is 37. She is a manager and loves to go hiking at the weekend, which she prefers to working out in the gym. Her main indulgence is handbags but she takes her time choosing them. She likes to shop online, but never at work. She browses ecommerce sites on her iPad in the evenings while enjoying her favourite wine, Merlot.

It might be easy to believe that because there has been a story created around the shopping habits of Sensible Sally that this means the company is treating her like a human rather than a customer. But this is absolutely not the case. This approach is a blunt instrument, and when building a marketing strategy there is so much more that you could do to start really connecting with people and improving their experience of your brand. 

When I build a human-centred brand experience strategy, I’m looking to achieve a user journey that is:

  • Consistent
  • Empathetic
  • Unique
  • Positive

As a side note, I never recommend the use of personas in marketing. Personas are simply stereotypes by another name. Stereotyping is just a step away from social categorisation, which leads to prejudice and, ultimately, discrimination. This is another area I’m very interested in and will be writing about soon.

Moving From Promise To Delivery

In our hyper-competitive modern marketplace, it’s very hard to get noticed. A lot of companies saw practices such as content marketing and took this to mean that by producing massive volumes of online ‘stuff’ they could win the marketing war. And, in fact, some brands have done this successfully. But plenty of businesses threw time and money into content creation and were then bitterly disappointed when their bottom line didn’t double overnight.

As soon as content marketing became mainstream, it started to lose its impact. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective, but that it shouldn’t be the only thing you do. Have you noticed how brands are talking more about their ‘purpose’ and ‘ethos’ or trying to get consumers to associate their services/products with their CSR initiatives? This is part of their brand positioning; they are using everything in their arsenal to differentiate from the competition.

The problem with this approach is evident whenever a customer comes across an experience that isn’t a mirror of this brand promise – disappointment, complaints, and negative publicity. Instead of focusing on proclaiming how great your customer service is, you could have been working on delivering it. That way, every single one of your happy and delighted customers would become champions of the company.

Human Experience Strategy Is Not ‘Purpose Washing’

A human brand experience strategy is not simply about recrafting your value proposition, or slogan, or sales catchphrase. It will require you to think about how you interact with people at every single stage of the process and empower everyone in the company to advocate for better experiences. This isn’t a branding exercise, either. This cannot be a cosmetic fix, if it doesn’t filter down into the core of the business it won’t work fully. You will need employee alignment and to adjust some of your ways of working and even the systems you use. 

Good human experience can take you from being simply an option to being a beneficial and necessary component of your customers’ lives. This can translate into exciting business metrics such as better retention rates, improved productivity, and increased profitability. You’ll also have employees who feel empowered to empathise, solve problems, and find solutions.

The goal of this type of approach is to close the gap between promise and delivery that is so often experienced in commercial transactions. This is my matrix for a good human brand experience strategy: 

  • One IDEA
  • One PURPOSE
  • One TONE

If your business growth has been stalling, if you’re feeling very “been there, done that” about your marketing strategy, if you see your competitors stealing market share, if your NPS is low or you’re seeing a lot of churn, if sales is the only tactic that seems to bring you results, you should be thinking about the brand experience you are delivering. The great news is that you are a human too, so it only takes a small shift in thinking to start building human experience into your brand strategy!

Main sources: Accenture, PwC, Walker, Temkin

If you want to create a strong and sustainable brand that transcends humdrum marketing experiences, talk to us today about building a human brand experience.

Scarlet Merrill

Author Scarlet Merrill

Founder & Customer Experience Activist at Engage. I create and deliver holistic strategies that are all about driving sales through great customer experiences. My passions are food and wine, collecting books, sustainable agriculture, innovation, politics, and pedantry. Motto: you don't make a plural by adding an apostrophe before the s!

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