Useful is the new "human"

Back in 2005 I launched a MySpace campaign. I know, right?! My Space. HA! And having been both a consultant and a practitioner, I have heard and offered so many different pieces of advice to get things working for a brand. To drive that engagement. To get our messages out there and to use this new tool as it was designed to be used, to create discovery, dialog and connection. But my favorite and one of the most common themes has been that our brands have to be more human. You’ve heard this, right? Be human. Mr. Brand, start by being human, it will work, I swear!

And it extended to us in talent acquisition. That we must be more authentic in how we deliver our message and our brand to the masses. But, now authentic and human show up on most bullshit bingo cards. Why?

The reality is humans are human, and brands are brands. You can have a personal brand, that’s one thing, but it is not as easy for brands to be people. Because they aren’t. They are brands. They are buildings. They are logos. They are products and services and yes, those products and services are made by humans, but the company is not in and of itself human.

It feels wrong. And most importantly, people don’t buy it. It’s not plausible, it’s like Vegas is for families. Which we all know Vegas is NOT for families. It’s just not. And it’s why that campaign went down in flames because it wasn’t believable. It was aspirational without taking into account what the target audience believes to be true. When you plan a family vacation, you don’t think Vegas. Disney maybe, but not Vegas. And when you are planning a family trip. What do you do? Well, you think about asking your friends about their favorite family vacations and you actively ask your network for advice. Do you ever ask a brand for their advice on where to vacation? Me neither.

And your behaviors are absolutely validated by research. According to Nielsen, 84% of global consumers believe recommendations from friends and family about products. While this is a product driven stat, it is not a stretch to believe that the same would be true of an employment experience. Making the choice to change jobs is a much bigger decision than selecting a toothpaste, telephone or laundry detergent. It is a more emotional choice. It’s one where you will trade your time for their money. Not your money for their product. It’s not easy to leave a job, it’s easy to switch toothpaste if you try a new brand and it doesn’t give you that oh-so-fresh feeling. Since it is much harder to test a job than it is a product, it is not unreasonable to assume that the reliance on friends and family is even greater than consumer products. Let’s never forget for one minute that people believe people before they believe brands. Which is probably how we got here, the whole hey brands, act human. It was the simplest solution. It was the shortest distance from point a to point b. If we as practitioners and consultants want people to believe brands, we needed to act more like people. That has to be the answer, right? Because if people believe people more than they believe brands, then the obvious move is for brands to be like people. But they are not. Brands are brands. People work with, at, or for brands, but the brand is simply not human, nor will it ever be.

It was the simplest solution. It was the shortest distance from point a to point b. If we as practitioners and consultants want people to believe brands, we needed to act more like people. That has to be the answer, right? Because if people believe people more than they believe brands, then the obvious move is for brands to be like people. But they are not. Brands are brands. People work with, at, or for brands, but the brand is simply not human, nor will it ever be.

We are all consumers of something. We are all prospective employees. And we do a lot of scrolling and deleting. Last year I noted that I delete 97% of things that are sent to be via email. And the last time I engaged with a brand’s post was March 35th. No seriously, I don’t comment on anything that a brand posts. Do you? When’s the last time you engaged with a brand’s social post (that you don’t work for).

For every 1,000 followers, only 6 will interact with a consumer brand. Compare that to your last personal Facebook post, it’s night and day. You’d be so sad if not even 2 people liked your dog’s picture!

But, as brands, we feel good about that whopping 6 human interactions. And even the most passive of engagement, the movement of a finger on a mouse over the like button is as good as it gets. More active engagement of putting your finger on your mouse, clicking and then typing actual words can light up a brand manager. But, they feel good enough about 6 passive or active engagements. And it’s ok. It’s against human nature to click on something from a brand. I’ll be honest and embarrassed at the same time to admit, I am more likely to complain to a brand than like it or comment on their post. I know, I stink. I would never think of a brand as human. So, when they try to be human it feels wrong, condescending.

But we keep doing it. Why do we keep trying to be authentic and human? Well, we are trying to sell something. Maybe it’s a job or a product or an employer brand. In the end, all brands are trying to sell something. So when the social media smarties tell brands to be more human, they develop content and content strategies that are really advertising masked as humanistic content. And most of the time it’s not all the humanistic. It’s pretty obvious. It’s still selling. Which is why we scroll past, delete and keep moving. We are not on Facebook or Twitter to be sold to. We are there to look at back to school pictures, dammit.

We’ve seen the decline of engagement on social as it has grown from toddler to teen. <show stats>. Now, these are consumer marketing stats, and I am going to be honest with you, I’ve made it a personal goal to create the B2T metrics category and I am hoping you will join me in this fight. So, hopefully, when I talk to you in the future, I will have another line on this screen that notes B2T so we can really benchmark our efforts, but for today, we have to take what we can learn from our counterparts in marketing and make assessments. But, as you can see it keeps falling. And falling. And falling.

What if instead, we tried to be useful.

Think about it. Useful while not sexy, is well, useful. Helpful. Guiding. Are these human traits? Abso-freaking-lutely. But, it’s also surprising. It’s head turning. It gets people paying attention. Because you did the 1 thing they were not expecting, you helped them. You thought of them first. You offered sound advice. You shared something useful to them. You made it memorable. You made it so they will think of you when they need something. You added value in the most surprising way.

Useful is not sexy. But, it gets the job done.

Tune in Tomorrow for Five Ways to be Useful