Why we all need to build Human Brands.

Brands are being rapidly dispersed by emerging routes to consumer and old brand models such as brand love are becoming less relevant. Our research into the future of brand relationships looks at how marketers can open an entirely new, more compelling dialogue between brands and people.

Jul 16, 2021

By Neil Davidson

A great piece of advice is that if you don’t know who is responsible for a quote then attribute it to Winston Churchill – you usually get away with it. So, while I forget who actually said ‘the future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed’ let’s say it was Winston Churchill. Whoever said it, it’s still a great quote for marketers to think about.

Human Brands are the future, and they were always coming.

In 2014 we carried out a research project into the future of brand relationships. We were standing on the shoulders of giants in taking inspiration from the decades-long work of Susan Fournier, and we were seeing a future that was here already in identifying the rise of what we called ‘Human Brands.’
Until then, the qualities of people’s relationships with brands had been dominated by the concept of brand love – you were either a brand that was loved by people or you were aspiring to that status, along with the hyperbole around the intensity of relationship this could create.

Back in the real world in 2014, people were telling us new and different things about their relationships with brands. We discovered a ‘Generation Tinder’ mindset, that technology and social media had created more fleeting and shallow relationships with brands. The real revelation was that these shallow relationships could be a good thing. People talked about 14 new brand relationships, such as ‘Positive Flings’ and FWB relationships with brands such as EasyJet, Google, and McDonald’s. (Who has a brand love relationship with McDonald’s after a heavy session on a Friday night?)

Brand dispersion has accelerated Human Brands.

The future is here now due to Brand Dispersion, brands being rapidly dispersed by emergent routes to consumer that are better connecting with people’s needs. This, in conjunction with changed behaviours and expectations, have had a massive effect on brand experience expectations, both deep and shallow, and many brands with legacy views on brand love and engagement with people have been left behind.

Recent YouGov research into global FMCG brands described the current situation as a ‘state of crisis’ due the impact of the pandemic on channel behaviour and choices. Marketers are grappling with new challenges: balancing ease vs engagement, meaningful friction vs friction-free engagement, brand immersion vs agile activation, never mind a whole new approach to working in marketing teams as we work remotely together.

There are some big questions to consider:

  • Can marketing lead the necessary and ongoing change agenda by identifying the big consumer changes that will affect their organisations?
  • Are we still partly holding on to old brand models and brand aspirations, such as brand love and long-term engagements and relationships?
  • What sort of Human Brand do marketers want their brands to be and what sort of behaviours matter in building them?

It’s still a time of incredible change, challenge and opportunity for marketers, and we all need to feel able to try out new ways of thinking and working, and sometimes fail without fear.

As Churchill once said, ‘success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ (I think it was Churchill.)

Click here to download our short white paper on the 14 new brand relationships and the opportunity for Human Brands.