Creating conversation

Humanizing brands

In Short

Nonprofit brands, like for profit brands, need to embrace reviews and criticisms and listen more than they speak.

It’s a human truth that people will forget what you said, but not how you made them feel. So it goes for brands.

I study brand theory and have concluded that the most successful brands act less like products and more like human beings. That’s why humanizing brands is critical to the success of any brand — be it B2C, B2B, or even a nonprofit brand.

So, how can you humanize a brand? First, an enticing brand personality matters more than a brand’s attributes. Why? Because human beings respond to human qualities. Therefore, the basic human truth of treating others as you would want to be treated also applies to brands.

Next, find an authentic story because brand building is about behaving, responding and speaking like a human being. Humans use stories to make sincere, emotional and genuine connections with each other. This takes brands from a transactional state to an experiential one; that is, relationships versus conversions. 

In today’s noisy, cluttered media landscape, making a meaningful connection is more important than ever. In 1759, English poet and essayist Samuel Johnson wrote, “Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently pursued, and it is, therefore, become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetic.” So, advertising clutter has been an issue for a long time. 

In 2007, a Yankelovich study showed that our daily exposure to ads exceeded 5000. That number has since doubled. Suffice it to say, we are overwhelmed with brand messages and choice. And consumers are not really looking for more choices. Rather, we want the confidence to make good choices. That’s why brands matter. Brands, good ones, make the process of choosing easier. If Apple decides to produce an EV … I’m in.

And we’re just now beginning to consider the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on brand humanization. When we apply AI, creating brand value will always be about connecting to emotional roots. Only when we can combine technology with deep human insights will we make the kind of “reach out and touch someone” connection to the consumer’s heart and mind. Rational thinking doesn’t have the same effect as intuitive thinking because intuition is a very human quality. And we tend to make decisions (more often than not), based on emotional rather than rational criteria – even though we all think that we’re rational decision makers.

As the SVP marketing for The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta how do I see the importance of being a human brand for my organization — or for any nonprofit brand?

Many nonprofits continue to use their brands primarily as a fundraising tool, but a growing number of nonprofits are developing a broader and more strategic approach, managing their brands to create greater social impact and tighter organizational cohesion. 

And the nonprofit brands I admire — Charity:Water, Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, and World Wildlife Fund — tend to focus more on social impact, that is, their “WHY” (purpose or reason for being) rather than their “WHAT” (they do), or even their “HOW” (they do what they do).

Large nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross, tell their story with a clear and intentional purpose that underscores the importance of communicating a real human narrative. The driving force of all their communication, and especially their fundraising efforts, is to create conversation and invite participation from the donor’s point of view. The essence of a human brand is adopting the attitude of WIFT – what’s in it for them.

Branding in the nonprofit sector appears to be at an inflection point in its development. Although many nonprofits continue to take a narrow approach to brand management, using it as a tool for fundraising, a growing number are moving beyond that approach to explore the wider, strategic roles that brands can play driving broad, long-term social goals, while strengthening internal identity, cohesion, and capacity.

Nonprofit brands, like for profit brands, need to embrace reviews and criticisms and listen more than they speak. In the end, donors will support nonprofit brands that solve a problem with honesty, trust and a real purpose. Nonprofits who can make this human connection have a huge strategic advantage in the marketplace. It isn’t easy, and it’s often hard to scale. But successful brands always passionately try.

Mark Goldman is senior vice president of marketing at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.