Brands that feel human create magnetism.
Human beings are drawn to human beings, not to abstract entities. When you allow the human elements of your business to shine through, you set the conditions for customers to feel drawn to you. How? Make a conscious choice about your business’s human characteristics. Articulate with precision and specificity the type of person your business would be if it were, in fact, a human being.
You want that person – your brand – to be bold enough to be remembered and liked, but subtle enough to be believed and trusted. A person who is bland is not remembered or liked. A person who is caricature-ish feels contrived and therefore fails to win trust. Liked + trusted = conditions for an enduring bond.
So to be magnetic, you become as person-like as you can be. Bold enough to be intriguing, and nuanced enough to be real.
Avoid These Pitfalls When Humanizing Your Brand
There are two flavors of mistakes people make when defining what kind of human their brand represents:
1) Understated, so that it’s too safe.
No one hates safety, but also no one loves or remembers it. Safe is bland and wishy washy, and is the path to mediocrity. Hold yourself to a braver standard than this. What is the most true, sharp, courageous way that you can show up for your customers?
2) Overstated, so that it feels contrived.
When you build something overstated, it feels caricature-ish and breeds mistrust. Over-the-top, one-dimensional brand character is less human, and therefore more difficult for your audience to love or trust.
Here’s an exercise to make this concrete:
Pinpoint three adjectives that together capture your brand’s personality, and another three adjectives that together capture your brand’s tone of voice. For example, for a fictional pancake brand, I choose personality descriptors of bright, action-oriented, and open, and tonality descriptors of fresh, light and direct. What’s our brand like, as a person? Bright, action-oriented and open. How does our brand talk? In a way that is fresh, light and direct.
Use Brand Edges to Create a Three-Dimensional Personality
Okay, we’ve got a great start. But our brand is still one-dimensional. Let’s add some brand edges to give nuance and vibrancy to our brand character.
Write your three personality descriptors and your three tonality descriptors with some blank space on either side of each word.
Write another word to the left of each word, this one conveying the same idea but not quite as strong as your descriptor. Then, write a word to the right that is an exaggerated version of your original descriptor.
I chose a personality descriptor of “bright.” To the left, I wrote “intelligent,” because we are more than merely intelligent – we are bright.
To the right, I wrote “Smart Alec,” because this would take the concept too far. My brand personality is more than intelligent, but less than smart alec. Merely intelligent is bland. But smart alec is caricature-ish. The true nuance of our brand personality is between those two edges.
Three good things result from using brand edges:
1) Nuance fosters magnetism
Brand edges align your company more closely to what a person is actually like. Nuance makes your company more like a person, so your audience will be more likely to bond with, trust and love your company.
2) Clarity empowers employees
Brand edges empower employees to embody the brand. Everyone in your company who touches the customer experience represents and owns your company’s brand. When you have done the hard work of articulating your brand edges, they have a filter to express the brand without micromanaging them.
3) Deliberate articulation enables consistency
Brand edges enable consistency. Because there is a single and nuanced definition of brand character as the filter, everyone can embody the same brand character. They can then reinforce this one character, creating a human-like bond with the audience.
Put Your Humanity to Work for Your Brand
Allow your business to be magnetic. With intention and great care, define what your business would be like if it were a human being. Recognize the human-ness of customers by showing up for them as a human serving a human.
Lindsay is a Brand Strategist and Founder of Ironclad Brand Strategy, which builds brands using an exacting and analytic method. Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered a deep appreciation for the executive charge: to create sustainable value. Ironclad advises companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, IMDb, T-Mobile and Starbucks. Lindsay holds an MBA in Business from the University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business.