Kin+Carta’s Eloise Maslewski: why humanity is the missing ingredient in brand resilience

The disruption businesses faced in 2020 was – wait for it – unprecedented. But it’s also delivered some admirable instances of agility across sectors: brands such as Seekology went from physical to digital, while Michelin-starred restaurants like Pied à Terre became takeaways.

Yet business resilience is built on more than one element and for all the talk of agility, there’s one vital ingredient that’s often been overlooked: humanity. It’s a key finding in Kin + Carta’s Brand Resilience Index, launched late last year to measure businesses against four key factors – agility, maturity, responsibility and humanity – that define business resilience.

The Index analysed 34 FTSE 100 businesses, B-Corp certified organisations, SMEs and large enterprises, and takes into account business models, working practices, long-term purpose and balancing people, purpose and profit.

While the businesses we measured score highest on maturity and agility, this is at the expense of humanity, in which one third (33%) of brands showed some exposure to risk. It’s a curious anomaly – or oversight, if you will – given that humanity was an integral part of any brand success not just in 2020, but as 2021 begins.

The need to form relevant emotional connections inspires engagement and loyalty. Here are three starting points that could help to address this.

Start co-creating experiences that matter

Netflix’s never-ending ‘Watch Next’ wheel, Apple’s iOS. Amazon’s recommendation engine. All massively successful, thanks to an implicit understanding of what people need. So, what if we put the same effort into providing people with what they want?

Adland’s obsession with market segmentation ironically means it can fail to fully understand the needs of target audiences. We as humans are so much more complex than ‘female, parent, 50s, cat-owner, Insta-fiend’ and market segmentation simply won’t capture how folk think, feel, say and do.

So why not ask them, and co-create experiences with them – as people? This can be done relatively simply and cost-effectively via regular feedback questionnaires, building a richer picture of a person’s needs and emotions. It might sound like pointless bureaucracy, but it’s led to some genuinely brilliant insights.

Last year, Google Maps released wheelchair accessibility routes for 500 million locations around the world, following a call-out for people to share their tips. Not only does this open up routes to people with wheelchairs, but also people with prams. Co-creation at its finest.

Turning words into practice

You can’t co-create half-heartedly – to truly serve its diverse customers, a brand first needs to accommodate for its diverse employees.

We’re starting to see this humanity come through in client briefs at a macro level, but it’s not just something for CSR – we have to live and breathe it, and deliver on a micro level, too.

Lockdown really brought home the challenges fellow colleagues have faced, and one moment particularly struck me following a Zoom call. A colleague who relies on lip-reading went from an inclusive culture to an exclusive one when the cameras were switched off. Just like that, they were essentially shut out.

It seems so obvious now, and we of course rectified the situation quickly. But it starkly revealed just how important humanity is.

Getting it right at home will help weed out jarring experiences for customers later on. Anything from toning down certain visuals to using different phrasing, to making dropdown answers more inclusive – just giving the options of ‘Male,’ ‘Female’ and ‘Prefer not to say’ assumes that anyone who doesn’t choose one of those first two options is uncomfortable disclosing how they identify, which isn’t always the case. They’re just not given the option. You’ve got to think of anything and everything, and a chief inclusivity officer or accessibility manager would be a start.

Thinking beyond profit to people and planet

That’s the crux of this. After all, a brand is more than just its shareholders, and customers are people. Real people with lives, hopes, dreams, weird habits, fun hobbies, virtues, flaws. The experience they have with brands has a tangible impact on their lives, especially during this isolated period.

The best brands can use their position to make the world work better for them. Take Lego, for example. It released braille bricks for blind or visually impaired kids (or kidults – you know who you are). In doing so, it’s playing a role larger than a bunch of colourful bricks – it’s helping people “develop tactile skills and learn the Braille system.”

‘Being more human’ isn’t as abstract and navel-gazing as it seems. It’s the nuts and bolts that make the difference between a nameless landing page and an experience you actively want to engage with. Taking humanity seriously can really raise the bottom line – according to a recent Microsoft study, brands that show an inclusive ad will benefit from a 23pt uplift in purchase intent among GenZ customers. It also shows that half (49%) of those surveyed would actively stop buying from a brand that doesn’t chime with their personal values.

If we’re to take any positives from the last year, it’s that humanity has properly been brought forward as something about which brands need to take action. Without the pandemic, five years from now we may well have still been talking about it rather than doing it. We just need to ensure that we will do it.

It’s not an overnight job. But if we begin implementing systems that create for ‘people’ rather than the ‘customer’, then we’re well on our way to putting humanity at the heart of everything we do. All else will then follow.

Eloise Maslewski is group account director at Kin + Carta Connect.

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