When I wrote ‘Marketing Rebellion’, I proposed that in the end, “the most human company wins.” I believe in our hearts we all seek communion with real humans, and to the extent, we can do that with our companies, we’ll survive and thrive in these perilous times. The book is a call-to-action for human-centric marketing.
Since then, the pandemic has amplified the need for this authentic human connection. People have been isolated, fearful, and anxious for months. Some of my readers have told me that my book is “coming true” as companies abandon their advertising scripts to roll up their sleeves and connect with people at their point of need.
Here’s a look at a few diverse examples of how companies demonstrate human-centric marketing.
If you’re wondering what I mean by “human-centered marketing”, the main idea is building an emotional connection with our consumers that is respectful, helpful, authentic, meaningful, and personal… maybe even vulnerable. We don’t annoy, we don’t interrupt, we don’t manipulate. Come alongside consumers to help them at their point of need.
I went out to my friends on LinkedIn and asked them for human-centric marketing examples. I was looking for case studies that:
Ironically, the first response I received was the opposite of what I was looking for:
Rooted in our purpose of “serving the greater good of our communities”, our leaders at XYZ have led with humanity, balancing employee need alongside the demands of the business. They’ve approached everything from news coverage to security to mental health with a human-centered lens that has kept employees motivated, audiences informed and clients happy.
This is not “human.” This is a press release.
By the way, if you want a free Human-Centric Marketing Manifesto, I created a colorful, hand-drawn manifesto you can see here and download for free. No strings attached. Just take it and hang it in your office.
So let’s get on four great lessons in human-centric marketing.
What it does: IKEA is a big box furniture retailer
After the U.S. presidential inauguration, this hyper-memed image of Bernie was everywhere, adding some smiles to a dreary period in U.S. history. IKEA’s agency, Ogilvy, jumped on the opportunity with perfect timing. A day too late and it would have fallen flat as a “me too”.
I like this because so many ads just look like… well, ads. This looks like something a clever friend of mine would post — so it’s welcomed. It’s organic to a customer’s experience instead of something that interrupts and annoys. It provides relevance to a cultural moment.
Today, the customer is the marketer. This is an ad that will be shared and discussed … as I just proved.
What it is: Burger King is one of the largest burger chains in the world
Burger King is known for its disruptive ads and relentless snark. But during the pandemic, the company lowered its guns and created this ad that is more than sensitive. It’s actually vulnerable.
For a moment, BK is saying, you know … we’re all in this together … we really are. Help us.
Believable and human.
What it is: American Express is one of the world’s largest financial institutions
Amex found an urgent human need that could uniquely be addressed by their company.
Research showed that Black-owned businesses are facing some of the greatest pandemic-related challenges:
In November 2020, American Express surprised 100 Black female entrepreneurs with grants of $25,000 and 100 days of resources – including business education, mentoring, marketing, and virtual networking. Why? To help them jump-start and grow their business ventures.
So simple. People took a hit during the pandemic. Let’s help fix it.
Why is this important? Great branding means building an emotional connection between your audience and what you do. When millions are out of work, scared, and even hungry, it makes sense to take a portion of your marketing budget and just help people.
They’ll never forget that, will they?
What it is: Chipotle is an America-based provider of delicious and healthy fast food
The company activated all available resources to respond to customer needs during the pandemic.
As soon as the crisis took hold, Chipotle turned every marketing employee into a “culture hunter.” The message was: “Stop what you’re doing. Listen to our customers and figure out what we need to be doing to help RIGHT NOW. Give us your ideas.”
Employees talked to customers and scoured social media for ideas. How can Chipotle connect in a meaningful way right now?
Chipotle completely reimagined its marketing presence to be the most human company in the restaurant business. They activated direct customer connections through their rewards program to stay in touch with their fans in a meaningful way.
And here is a remarkable result. While nearly every food chain suffered during the crisis, Chipotle — a restaurant with no drive-through — tripled its digital sales.
The most human company wins.
Also the most human university, the most human law firm, the most human police force, the most human real estate agent. Any organization showing as a human face to their community and meeting customers at their true point of need will survive and thrive today — and beyond.
I would love to hear about your favorite human-centered marketing examples, and also your challenges to transcend traditional marketing to forge your new path. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Mark W. Schaefer is a keynote speaker and marketing strategy consultant.
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