Being a friendly brand that really connects with consumers is a different prospect than it was five years ago.
Gone are the days when a flashy logo or catchy tagline could do the heavy lifting for your brand identity. But also gone are the days where you could pick a trending topic, post a wry comment, and open the champagne bottles as the engagement rolled in.
To turn heads and maintain valuable consumer attention now, you need to make your brand more relatable, approachable, and human, across multiple channels.
But there's a balance to be struck. Putting in the minimum effort? You'll be faceless, corporate, and boring. But if you overdo it, you'll come across as insincere, overbearing, and weird.
So here's what you need to know about brand humanization in 2022 and beyond. Our story begins with meat, tweets, and sheep.
Does Typing Like a Teenager Make Your Brand More Human?
We're truly going through the age of brands-as-humans — especially when it comes to company social media accounts. Consider these two farmyard-related brands showcasing this strange (but oddly compelling) new reality.
Steak-umm is one of the most well-known "personality brands" on Twitter right now. It's literally just a brand of US-based sliced frozen steaks — something you wouldn't normally associate with social media success.
But for the last few years, their Twitter account has published thousands of sassy, unconventional, and downright weird posts. Their feed is full of lower-case life advice, rants on media literacy and democratic participation, and extraordinarily self-aware meta-memes.
February 23, 2022
And then there's the MERL: the Museum of English Rural Life, in Reading, UK.
What was once a fairly obscure agricultural history museum became a social media sensation after embracing an entirely new brand voice. It began with them tweeting a photo of a large sheep alongside the phrase "look at this absolute unit." This quickly became part of the online vernacular for anything unusually large and kicked off the MERL's transformation into a social media powerhouse.
Before the sheep tweet, they had 9,600 followers. Two years later, they crossed the 150,000 follower mark.
The key to their success? Being genuinely funny, not trying too hard, being self-aware, and talking to their followers like real people.
Not every brand will get away with a shift in tone like this. But maybe there's something we can learn from these personality-driven brand accounts.
And it's not just "type in lower case".
How to Humanize Your Brand
The golden rule of humanizing your brand: don't force it.
As any teenager can tell you, anyone who tries to be cool isn't cool, whether that's a skateboarding uncle or a multinational corporation.
There are plenty of ways you can humanize your brand that don't require you to take on a wildly different persona. We'll go through them below.
Remember, we're not just talking about social media here. Brands show their human side through multiple channels:
Product and packaging
So while increasing the emoji content of your tweets might give your engagement a little bump, you’ve got to think a little bigger to start making real connections.
Here are some of our favorite ways to bring a little more soul to your brand.
1. Showcase the People Behind Your Brand and Their Stories
Who makes the final product?
Who packs the boxes?
Who supplies your raw materials?
Who talks to customers?
Telling your brand story is vital for the humanization of your brand. Narratives work as guidelines for peoples' understanding, helping them grasp concepts much easier than they do from dry facts and data.
A compelling story is more memorable than a list of accomplishments or features, and there are plenty of ways to tell yours.
Imagine you're an eCommerce brand selling coffee, and you're particularly proud of your sustainable packaging. You could mention it in your product page, with a few lines of copy about how recyclable it is.
But you could also use it as a base to tell stories that your customers care about:
Why you care about sustainable packaging
Where it comes from
Which people actually assemble it
The environmental results of using it instead of conventional materials
The same goes for the coffee itself. Where do the beans come from? If you've sourced them from a farm collective in Guatemala, share photos and stories of how trading with them benefits each party.
It's too easy to focus on the 'how' behind your product: people want to know the 'why', too.
2. Apologize When Things Go Wrong
Responding well to a crisis can mean the difference between being forgiven and being dragged into a brand scandal. But plenty of brands have messed up and come out just fine because they acted with humility and transparency.
If you make a mistake, act with virtue, and you're much more likely to be forgiven and remembered well. (And yes, this applies to people as well as brands.)
When you’re faced with a crisis of your own making:
Explain why it happened
Reassure people how and why it won't happen again
Be less formal and talk like regular people do
Deflect the blame
Cover things up
Rely on PR jargon in an insincere statement.
3. Invest in Customer Service
You might think that customer service mostly deals with solving disputes, like faulty products or billing issues. It's so much more than that, though. It can (and should) be a force for positive, human-centered interaction with your customers.
Being proactive with your customer service isn't just going to help your customers with their onboarding – if you do it well, it's going to turn some of them into brand advocates. This is why it's worth investing in.
Here's an example.
If you're selling a software product, you might fall into a common trap of focusing too much on the technical stuff. Your support center content is full of guides with screenshots; useful information, but a little dry.
But you have to remember that it's people that use your product, and this is a great opportunity to build a connection with them.
Take inspiration from Webflow's awesome, funny guide videos, each featuring a memorably witty character. They're extensive and educational, but unique too – you don't often see web design tutorials presented in such a personable way.
How else can you humanize your customer service? As tempting as it might be to automate everything, you can't delegate every interaction to a chatbot or template library:
Have a phone line staffed by humans
Have named agents answering your support emails
Send video messages or Loom video explainers
Hand-write notes when you're sending things in the mail
The opportunities to delight your customers, retain them longer, and spark word-of-mouth promotion are endless.
Let's look at a brand that's done humanization the right way.
A Brand Humanization Case Study: Xbox
Xbox has become a global leader in video game hardware and content services. The Microsoft-owned brand has long been seen as a runner-up in the gaming industry, never quite reaching the triumphant positions of its competitors, Sony and Nintendo.
Since 2020, though, that's started to change. Xbox is winning.
While it would be easy to be a faceless mega-corp that only talks about gaming tech, the brand has made efforts through multiple channels to humanize its brand over the last few years.
Some of the ways in which Xbox has done this are:
Embracing the chaotic fun of sharing self-aware memes on Twitter
Interacting with the community, like replying to tweets and commenting on small YouTube gaming videos as "Xbox"
Showing its support for issues that gamers care about, such as diversity, accessibility, crisis response, and charitable activity
Having recognizable brand representatives have open and honest discussions about the state of the industry; for example, live streaming a "fireside chat" on the topic of "empowering game creators in everything we do"
Embracing customer feedback both online and within the product: when you finish playing a new game on Xbox Cloud, your console will ask you how the experience was and how it could be made better
When you turn on your console, you're waking it up from its dream but don't worry... it was dreaming about you playing more games— Xbox Game Pass (@XboxGamePass) March 20, 2022
The result? Record annual figures for 2021. Over 12 million units of their latest consoles sold, generating 63% more revenue than the previous year. Games and service sales were up 8.8%. Overall earnings rose by over $16 billion.
And Xbox has grown massively in brand value, too. In fact, in 2021 it was placed #59 on Kantar's BrandZ global brand equity rankings. That's alongside parent company Microsoft, up in fourth place as a $400bn behemoth. It's notably the only gaming company on the list.
Xbox's main competitor, Sony, doesn't seem to share the same view when it comes to a human brand. They let the product speak for itself, without a particularly chatty social media presence or transparent view of the people behind the brand.
This hasn't been an entirely unwise move, seeing as Sony sold a massive 17.3m Playstation 5 consoles by the end of 2021. Its limited supply, caused by both the global semiconductor shortage and high demand during global lockdowns, has meant that it's still selling out more than a year after launch.
But there still seems to be an opportunity to bring a more human face to a famously reserved brand. What lofty heights could their brand reach if we could put more of a face to the name?
Let's be clear: posting even the snappiest of memes won't build a stellar brand overnight.
Covering your website with photos of smiling employees is a nice touch, but if you don't act in accordance with your brand values, nobody's going to think you're sincere.
Brand humanization is a long-term project – it involves investing in your people as much as your marketing. To build a truly human brand, you need to combine proactive, strategic marketing with a company culture you can be proud to show off.
It's an investment, but when it goes right, it can make for some stunning results.