Integrity is the New Sexy! 5 Steps to Humanize Your Brand

Amelia Hernandez

30 June 2014

Being humane is now profitable!

Move over social media- there’s a new advertising gimmick in town. In the 90s it was ethics. A decade later we became obsessed with emotional intelligence. Today, integrity is the new sexy.

One might argue that it’s obvious: companies depend on people both as a workforce and as a market. They need people either to provide the service/product or to buy it. So logically, people would be at the center of the company’s interests. It seems simple enough. Or is it?

Recently my attention was caught by the following headlines in my newsfeed:

June 11th, 2014: The 9 Most Misleading Product Claims

June 11th, 2014: Chicago Ad Agency Fires Client Panera, Calling Company ‘Difficult’

June 19th, 2014: Controversial American Apparel CEO is fired: Founder who faced NINE sexual harassment claims after turning T-shirt business into multi-million dollar empire is sacked for ‘misconduct’

June 23rd, 2014: Is Altruism Good Business? Starbucks Strives For Distinction With Integrity Move

The message is clear – organizations have to be transparent, ethical and consistent.Companies are being exposed for false advertising; philosophy and ideals are being valued over revenue; moral values are being demanded of CEOs and finally, altruism becomes a core point of differentiation for a multinational that sells $4 lattés (although you might argue that it was a distraction from the 5-20 cent price increase in coffee prices announced by Starbucks this week?).

Why this surge in goodness? Can you include a “nice-guy” surcharge in your rates? Not exactly.

It has to do with “the internet of things” and how our hyper-connectivity is actually forcing organizations to be more human. We demand to know what’s going on, we are skeptical of corporate speak, and when we reach out to a business we expect a caring person to be on the other end. If we don’t get this, we have the power to voice our frustrations and disappointments to an audience of 2.9 billion people. Understandably, it’s in the best interest of every organization, whether in the public or private sector, to keep their public happy. Note, this does not mean that the customer is always right; it means that organizations must not ignore or underestimate the intelligence of their audience.

One has only to consider the ripple effect that Snowden’s exposure of the NSA has had on international policies regarding data protection, not to mention its impact on the reputation of the Obama administration. It’s increasingly difficult to sustain an opaque structure; the days of monolithic enterprises concealing information are long gone. Internet users and employees demand transparency; they are skeptical of organizations that refuse to share knowledge and are quick to expose any lies.

This newfound transparency has led to an open #SocialBusiness model, one that integrates employees and customers, and encourages accountability and dialog. Today’s consumers are not impressed by expensive campaigns or overpriced tags. They want to feel good about the brands they buy and the services they use. The value add no longer comes from a shiny logo sewn onto a pocket – consumers want an experience, they want to feel special and respected.

The 2013 IRI Times and Trends report on Private Labels revealed that 64% of consumers felt that “brand names are not better quality.” It´s increasingly difficult to fool people; they know where things are made and what goes into producing each service. It’s not that they aren’t willing to pay a premium – quite the contrary, Nielson´s report on global consumption and social responsibility disclosed that 54% of respondents would be willing to reward companies that gave back to society by paying more for their goods and services.

The bottom line is that people want to know what they are paying for and who they are giving their money to. Marketing of the future isn’’t about advertising at all. Developing a long-term relationship with consumers requires, in large part, making information accessible and facilitating discussion about your brand. It’s also about being someone consumers can trust and want to do business with for the long haul. The conversation about brand value is shifting from brand equity to brand integrity. If brands are able to establish a meaningful relationship with consumers, they will do the marketing for them. After all, that’s what social media is for, isn’t it?

Does your company have enough integrity to ensure a high life time value?

Japan’s new android robots are eerily lifelike.

Here are 5 steps to humanize your brand:

  1. Personify your brand (we are still humans, mostly)
    Large corporations are only just beginning to put public faces to their employees and executives. When your team is active on social networks with real names, it speaks to what kind of community your brand represents and has the added benefit of establishing your company as a thought leader. Make sure that when consumers interact with you they know who they are talking to; don’t be afraid to show your face and look them in the eye – it reflects an attitude of accountability. Don’t you feel better when the pilot on your flight introduces himself personally?
  2. Use plain talk and respect your consumer (read or re-read the Cluetrain Manifesto)
    We all know that the 80s fashion has come back with a vengeance, but the corporate speak so popular in that neon decade has not. Today’s consumer is connected and informed. They have consciously chosen you, it is important to honor and show gratitude for their loyalty. Avoid the mistakes of those 9 brands that used false labeling to gain a competitive edge. Expect your consumer to know more about your brand than you do and make them feel good about buying from you.
  3. Engage your employees (happy employees = happy customers)
    If your employees aren’t happy to be a part of your community how will they interact with your clients? 2.0 Culture has become more than a buzzword – it is the groundwork for a brand’s identity. A band is the reflection of its employees and vice-versa. Zappos is often cited as the prime example for an open business model with integrated business ethics. In the case of Starbucks, the added press from their new program to subsidize the college education of their employees reflects a commitment to both the staff as well as to the clients. It’s not just good for the community, its good for business.
  4. Walk the talk (be accountable)
    It’s okay to fire clients and even the CEO some times. As I mentioned that the client isn’t always right, but it’s most important that you believe in your client and that you believe in your work with them. The same goes for management. After American Apparel let go of its founder its stock rose. It’s just as important to protect the accountability within your organization as externally. If you care about your company’s future, then you will make sure to act as you say. That includes making sure you are entering a relationship with the right clients and ensuring that all staff contribute positively to your brand’s image.
  5. Step out of your bubble (be relevant)
    Have you heard about the internet? You know, the thing that connects people all around the world in real time? Yes. I think you do. News travels fast, and there’s no filter. If you are cognoscente of your company’s role within the broader community outside the confines of your home page, then you know that it behooves you to make sure that you are seen as a positive influence. But don’t just throw money at a cause, become the cause.

Japan also made headlines this week for the creation of its life like android robots. Supposedly these machines will replace personnel in the service industry, reducing costs and providing a more consistent experience. They represent the new competition for future employees and will make that “human touch” an even more compelling sales argument.

Conclusion: Be real, act as you preach, create meaning. Demonstrate your integrity, humanity and creativity. It will pay off in the long run.