The Lyft, Southwest, and Starbucks brand secret your business should use too

Opinions expressed by entrepreneur Contributors are their own.

International research by Harvard Business Review has documented that brands perceived as more “human” benefit from stronger customer engagement, greater innovation, loyalty and a unique reputation. It pays to be human!

However, creating a human brand requires challenging one’s own perceptions and habits to create a new approach to customers.

Development of the brand concept

The perception of brands has changed – even among us marketing freaks. These different opinions about brands and branding have been of great importance in how we create connections between the manufacturer and the customer. The prevailing opinion was to see brands as an object or even as a concept. Originally, this meant that the mark was a form of identification; The brand acted as a name, slogan or symbol that the communicator wanted to convey to people. Branding should therefore differentiate an organization from its competition and increase its sellability. A new perspective on branding was brought by the “Father of Brand Positioning” Al Ries when he said, “Brands are something we manage.” This means that brands are no longer something we simply add to sell products, but something we must learn to manage, develop and promote.

Ries’s contribution has since been supplemented and in some areas superseded by the entire experiential movement. Experts and marketing gurus say brands are something we create “in the moment” and are largely based on experience.

Related: Human Design for Business: 3 Instant Ways to Magnetize Your Brand Voice

A new look for brands: the human brand

When I champion a “human brand,” I take a different approach than the ones above.

Mine is strongly influenced by 20 years of experience in international startups, which are not only innovative companies themselves, but are also trend-setting in terms of marketing and relationship building. From this perspective, brands are not just objects, ideas or experiences, they are relationships – human relationships. Ries and others operate largely through an asymmetric relationship between brands and potential customers, where Company X simply provides a product to Customer Y. In contrast, human brands are defined by relationships, collaboration, and purpose.

For example: Lyft, a popular competitor to Uber, when it was launched actively encouraged passengers to sit next to the driver in the front seat. This underscored Lyft’s alternative “humanized” message by emphasizing the customer relationship as peer-to-peer rather than employee-customer.

Southwest Airlines, an airline I used a lot while living in Silicon Valley, operates in a similar way. It redefines the traditional staff-passenger relationship by having cabin crew sing a welcome song instead of boring safety instructions. By taking this simple step, Southwest offers friendly, helpful and enthusiastic service.

A final example is Starbucks, which has merged its human and relationship branding. Not only has it rewritten the role of waiter by training its staff to be baristas, but it has transformed the Starbucks experience from a restaurant or traditional coffee shop into a community center.

Related: How to actually become your idealized brand personality

How to make a brand more “human”.

Humanizing a brand requires a new approach.

The transformation can begin by considering how you might rewrite your current role in relation to your customers. This will often be a reflection that has far-reaching implications for your entire business, from communications and marketing to leadership, innovation and customer service. Creating a human brand is not just a marketing exercise, it is a cultural transformation process. This process can begin with two questions:

What relationship does the customer have with you today?

Can you imagine this relationship more human?

If we imagine that your company is in the field of education, then you probably have a teacher-student or maybe a trainer-mentor relationship. To make this more human and less asymmetrical, it might be worth creating a peer-peer or co-creator oriented relationship. Then ask yourself what significance this new approach could have in everything from marketing and innovation to leadership and communication.

If the above doesn’t work for you, there are other approaches to create a more human brand. You can choose to create a plan that encompasses the ideal customer relationship you desire in the future. Take a position on your current products and services and evaluate their value and benefits.

How can you translate these into a relationship that provides the recipient with the same benefits and values ​​that they are currently receiving in a more humane way? Let me give you an example – smoke detectors. Most smoke alarm manufacturers will likely view their relationship as a manufacturer-customer. However, it could achieve far greater success and loyalty by redefining that relationship to portray its customers as family members. Customers may warm to it because they want the reassurance that comes with having someone look after them and “keep their hands over them” to avoid harm. This is something that normally only the closest family members can do for us.

Related: 5 things you need to build a strong brand in 2022

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