Article | Marketing

6 Strategies to Humanize Your Brand in Marketing

Rhonda Basler
Female in coffee shop with laptop computer working and smiling
Female in coffee shop with laptop computer working and smiling

This article was originally published on Spin Sucks.

Amidst the whirlwind of change in 2020, consumers hoped they could count on something important: social responsibility and compassion from the brands they loved. The importance of socially responsible marketing wasn’t a new phenomenon, to be sure. Even before the pandemic, shoppers preferred to align themselves with purpose-filled companies.

According to a 2018 Accenture report, more than half of all consumers invested in brands that stood for something that dovetailed with their own beliefs. And a 2019 Porter Novelli and Cone study echoed those findings by showing 72% of respondents felt it was important to put their dollars toward companies that mirrored their values.

Now, though, people expect an even stronger commitment from businesses. Kantar’s recent Barometer indicates that up to 27% of adults under 35 expect brands to become change leaders. If they don’t see what they want from one brand, you can bet they won’t hesitate to move on to another.

Of course, the task of humanizing a brand usually falls on the marketing team, especially if they are also responsible for the customer experience. Certainly, it also needs to be strong throughout the company — from the CEO and board members all the way to the frontline workers. But marketers often carry the torch, making sure the content they deliver resonates with internal and external stakeholders.

That’s where socially responsible marketing comes into play.

A Snapshot of Socially Responsible Marketing After the Pandemic

Socially responsible marketing engages consumers personally, emotionally, and inclusively. As such, it can be challenging to master. After all, the world and its population change from moment to moment. What’s socially responsible this year (or even this week) might seem outdated next year, so it’s important for marketing teams to be able to switch gears seamlessly.

If consumers don’t feel a brand is made up of human beings who truly care, they’ll find a competitor that treats them better. For instance, my company has historically helped our customers celebrate Mother’s Day each year. Yet we’ve learned that for many folks, Mother’s Day can bring up sad memories and experiences, especially if their mother has passed away or if they are struggling with fertility.

Therefore, we’ve also created support and resources for those who have lost their mothers and mother figures. This allows anyone to celebrate parental memories without feeling excluded from what’s become a huge holiday across the world.

Of course, delivering empathetic, sensitive, and supportive content is only the beginning of socially responsible marketing. You’ll also want to make sure you’re protecting the environment, using your platforms for good, and partnering with other responsible parties and vendors.

Oh, and your content needs to exude gratitude while encouraging curiosity, understanding, and learning. Is this a big task? You bet. It’s a never-ending journey. When handled appropriately and thoughtfully, however, socially responsible marketing can become “marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing.”

And that’s a good thing. After all, no consumer wants to feel like a number in a database.

Six of the Best Ways to Humanize Your Marketing

If you’re trying to humanize your brand through social responsibility and purpose-driven marketing, apply the following strategies. They’ll help to apply human-centered design principles to your marketing and advertising plans.

Showcase Your Employees

What better way to make your brand come to life than to showcase that it’s made up of diverse, interesting employees? Allow your people to shine on social, feature their work on videos, and construct blog posts around how they’re bringing your brand mission to the forefront of their work.

Sharing behind-the-scenes content is one way to achieve this. For a terrific example of a brand that’s creating this kind of content, check out Lush’s YouTube channel. The cosmetics brand’s videos give an insider look at how Lush’s top products are made—and, more importantly, the humans who are making them.

Dust Off Your Corporate Tone

Does your company tone seem a little dated or lacking in authenticity? It might be time for a change. Know that it’s never too late to try something new, especially if your corporate image has evolved after the pandemic.

Looking for inspiration? Take a tip from State Farm’s marketing campaigns. The company uses everything from babies to pets to snag heartstrings. However, its tone always remains relatable and relaxing—and never pushy.

Rise Above the Rest

When you want to make a wow-worthy statement, make it boldly.

That’s what Hilton and American Express got right during the earliest portion of the pandemic lockdowns when they pledged to donate up to one million rooms to frontline medical workers. Their announcement was a courageous move that revealed the companies’ best sides. (And yes, they received mountains of media attention for this.) It goes without saying that the move solidified the brands as leaders in their respective industries.

Say ‘Thank You’ and Mean it

As marketers, we all have that back-of-mind sales motive when we send messages to customers. Once in a while, though, just aim to say “thanks.” In other words, show appreciation without strings and move on. You’d be surprised at how rare this simple action is among businesses.

Nevertheless, it’s essential because it causes surprise and delight. You could even include an unexpected freebie in your message of thanks to ramp up the positive nature of the experience even more.

Celebrate Often

Marketers have a habit of glossing over life’s wins—especially when they’re not part of a content calendar.

With this, be sure that your team has enough freedom to recognize customers and clients when they have reasons to celebrate. In the same vein, make sure to reach out to customers during their tough moments, too. Treat everyone who supports your brand as you would a friend.

Apologize When It’s Needed

Of course, all businesses make mistakes from time to time. That’s a fact of life and business. When you do, acknowledge your mistakes, rectify them, and move on.

Case in point: about a decade ago, Sony was involved in a significant data breach. Rather than pointing fingers, its leadership took the heat and provided extra support to affected customers. The embarrassment of the moment didn’t destroy the corporation. Rather, it gave the company a chance to show humility.

Sit down with your target market personas this week: how well do you know what they want right now—especially in light of all that’s happened in their lives recently? The deeper you can connect with their true goals, the easier you’ll be able to implement socially responsible marketing efforts that matter.