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NEWSFLASH: Brands are no longer built by adherence to one big idea and repetition of centralized, fixed rules (in spite of what our marketing professors taught). And speaking of professors, the old approach to branding was just like a college class: one too many, trying to engage students with surprising statements, teaching through repetition, testing for awareness, and hoping for positive evaluations.

Today’s digital interface has changed all that. It is one-to-one, perpetual, immediate, and personal. Following the old branding rules will make your brand seem robotic, inhuman, and downright boring. Instead of a classroom, think coffee shop. Today’s branding is more like meeting a friend at Starbucks.

The most successful brands have become humanized. Marc Shillum, Principal at Method, writes, “Through the interface, it is increasingly easy to see how a company behaves, the actions it takes, what it says, and how it responds, reacts, or hides. This transparency demands that a brand becomes more consistent, responsive, communicative, and social. As a result, the brand becomes more dimensional and, in effect, more human.”1 So, how do you build a more humanized brand for the digital age? More…

First, the most obvious point: Branding today has to be a conversation, not a monologue. You’re asking, listening, learning – not just telling. And you can’t be referring to your brand guidelines before responding either, or when you look up from your script, your customer will be texting someone else.

Second: Be interesting. Tell your stories and listen to their stories. This is related to the first point, but it speaks to how you communicate. Stories are much more engaging than data. They touch your friends’ (the new name for consumers) emotions and make having coffee with you well worth the effort. Bonus: You’ll learn from their stories how to become a better brand.

Third: Be honest. You’re living in a glass house. I was reminded of this recently when a good friend of mine had a horrible experience with his insurance company. Suffice it to say, they were not even like an average neighbor, let alone a good one. Now everyone in his circle of influence is avoiding that brand like the plague. There is constant online chatter about your brand, and people are much more likely to share criticism than praise. So, don’t be slimy. Enough said.

Fourth: Be responsive to your friend’s needs and complaints. Only your best friends will tell you that your breath stinks or your collar is up in back. Reward that brand loyalty with a quick reply and some gratitude.

Fifth: Be consistent. Imagine that every time you meet a friend for coffee she has a different personality. Consistency breeds trust. If you are the same person every time we meet, I will begin to think I know you. Define your brand personality, voice, and tone and stick with it. As mentioned earlier, you don’t want to lock yourself to a brand script, but you do need to sound and act the same over time. Don’t let new marketing leadership change your brand personality.

Sixth: Be friendly. This is challenging for some brands. Lighten up. Be affable, warm, outgoing, approachable, good-natured, and easygoing. Who wants to have coffee with a stiff?

Seventh: Be authentic. Do you remember when your parents used to try to use the words you and your friends used? Not so groovy, right?

Eighth: Be generous. Thanks to Hollywood and the news media, there is already strong suspicion that your brand is just the friendly face of a money-grubbing scrooge. But some brands, like Tom’s Shoes, have overcome this skepticism by helping people in need. As the good book says, “Give freely and become more wealthy.” (Proverbs 11:24 NLT)

Ninth: Be fun. You’ve got to entertain your friends – make it more enjoyable to engage with your brand. Here’s a great example from the back of my son’s favorite body wash: “Who knew the wild scent of Wolfthorn Body Wash could help to battle stinky body problems? Maybe Aristotle or talking owls knew, but definitely not regular people or dumb owls.”

Tenth: Be relevant. The passage of time keeps everything in motion. Each new generation has a different set of experiences and values. You can’t rest on your laurels. It takes constant effort to keep your brand relevant to each new wave of brand friends.

Today’s digital interface has made your brand more dynamic. Your customer’s influence on your brand is growing. With each online action or reaction, they are either contributing or extracting value. Humanized brands are the ones building positive digital/social energy with their friends. You can do this. And if you’d like some help, contact the strategic humans at the Gravity Alliance.

1 Source: Brands as Patterns, Marc Shillum, Principal,, #11 in the 10×10 series.