I had the pleasure last Thursday of attending Jeff Pulver’s BrandsConf at the 92nd Street Y in New York City: a virtually non-stop firehose of short-format sessions focused on brands, branding, and more specifically, “exploring humanization of brands” [emphasis mine].
While the conference was a little short on “how to,” topics ran the gamut from philosophical arguments about the importance of “human brands”, to the difficulties inherent in balancing personal and professional brands, to case studies about brands in social media (though in Sesame Street’s case, that was more about the “monsterization” of brands…), to examples of organizations that had effectively “humanized” their brand through the judicious, and clever, use of human-like characters or mascots.
As you might imagine, though, when you’ve got 50-something speakers in 40-something slots, it takes a little while to process all the information you’ve taken in… and then figure out what it actually means to the current state of branding.
And so: as much as BrandsConf — and even we here at Sametz Blackstone — have been talking about creating “human brands,” my biggest takeaway from BrandsConf is that “human branding” isn’t possible.
It’s simply not possible to make a non-human thing, human.
In fact, what you get when you aren’t honest with yourself about that reality are weird mash-ups of plainly corporate and almost-human behaviors (“Frankenbrands,” as my colleague Meg calls them) or, perhaps even worse, brands that appear human in most ways, but lack the soul, the quirks, and the randomness of actual humans — mostly because all the real humans that work for them have been forced into a narrowly defined mold of what a “human” is (in other words, “Brandroids” — also Meg’s term!).
More often than not, it seems, attempts to “humanize” a brand just lead to character-izing it instead.
The problem is, I think, that there are so many different ways to be human. Unless a company hires a veritable army of identical people (which is obviously not possible), or hires a bunch of different kinds of people, and then legislates their human behavior into a Borg-like cybernetic unit (the being otherwise known as Brandroid), it’s impossible for a company to act, react or respond the same way a human would in every situation.
Yes, companies are made up of people, and people are human, but that doesn’t make the behavior of companies human — nor, I daresay, should it.
Essentially, companies are ideas, at their core: ideas thought of by humans, maintained by humans, and supported and sustained by humans.
But, again, they’re not human. Why?
Because humans don’t scale. They can’t. The growth of your company, while undoubtedly positive, will put an unavoidable dent in your “humanness.” Which, in turn, means “human branding” can’t scale, either.
But — and here’s the real challenge — branding at a human scale does.
So the question changes: instead of wondering how to create a “human brand” (though we could stand for brands being a bit more “humane“…), we have to explore how we might create a human-scale brand.
What does that look like? What could it look like? What should it look like?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Image credit: Swami Stream