What Happens When a Company De-Humanizes Its Brand?
Let’s admit it. We like getting stuck in ruts—at least, the lazy part of our human nature does. We like routines. We love familiarity.
And companies that slip into complacency—or companies that accept the corporate culture of their industry without question—often commit the same mistake: They forget how to be human.
Most companies sound like they are businesses talking to other businesses—buildings talking to buildings. Because we’re in business-to-business or business-to-consumer instead of human-to-human, we forget how to have human conversations. It’s time to start sounding like humans again.
But this begs the question: How on earth do you teach a stubborn, unwieldy entity like a company—with all its varied parts and personalities set in their ways—to collectively throw off its alienating corporate image and become human again?
The answer can be summarized in one word actually.
Okay, maybe two words: emotional intelligence.
Revisiting a Different Kind of Intelligence
So what is emotional intelligence?
Yes, it was a trendy term in marketing back in the day when Nirvana was still touring and Starbucks was just expanding beyond Seattle. But it’s amazing how easily we forget or ignore important discoveries in marketing history.
According to leading emotional intelligence researchers Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, as cited by About Education, emotional intelligence is:
the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions (1990)
Or, as Business Insider described it in an April 3, 2015 article:
People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they’re feeling… They understand what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people—and they apply that same perception and understanding to those around them.
The Challenge of Building Emotional Intelligence in the Digital Age
In our Screen Age, where many people now transact their most important moments of relational communication over text, researchers have found that this creates disconnect, as Alligator.org noted:
According to a recent Brigham Young University study, constantly connecting through technology can actually cause disconnects in relationships. The study, which focused on 18- to 25-year-olds, found using texting as a way to make important decisions or settle arguments resulted in lower relationship quality for women. For men, too much texting lowered the relationship quality… Additionally, an Intel study found more than 60 percent of young adults believe relying too much on technology can be dehumanizing.
If, in our modern tech age, individuals have trouble connecting with others and building their emotional intelligence, imagine how easy it is for companies to do that with their customers. As Forbes wrote, “… science has learned that if you are tuned out of your own emotions, you will be poor at reading them in other people.”
Bad branding happens when companies fail to read the emotions of their customers accurately.
(And, frankly, many companies could benefit from MIT’s computer program that teaches people how to be less socially awkward.)
Case Study of Strong Emotional Intelligence: SKOL’s “Us” Not “Them” Approach
When it comes to accurately perceiving, understanding, and connecting with the emotions of people through branding, SKOL, the Brazilian beer company, is a champ.
As profiled in Brian Sheehan’s book Loveworks (powerHouse Books, 2013, pp. 53-55), SKOL approached their customers with empathy and tried hard to understand what made them tick on an emotional level.
In the process, they noticed that their customers loved two things:
- Brazil’s Carnival; and
- using an ambitious, military-like planning of their parties for Carnival.
SKOL discovered how serious these partiers took Carnival.
SKOL’s Brilliant Plan of Attack
SKOL jumped into the Carnival experience with their customers and became one of them. They planned a customer-driven invasion of Carnival. Using social media, SKOL invited their customers to form troops in their respective cities across Brazil. Whichever troop came up with the best party planning ideas for Carnival were invited to join SKOL’s monumental land, sea, and air invasion of Carnival.
This meant that the winning troops had free use of SKOL’s private jets, jeeps, and cruise liners to travel to Carnival or to use to host their Carnival parties. SKOL also organized the troops to execute their party plans at popular Carnival locations.
Placing the Customer in the Spotlight, Not the Product
Amazingly, it wasn’t really about the beer itself. Sure, SKOL used gorgeous graphics and uniforms on all the party vehicles, personnel, and gear to promote the brand, but the focus was on the customers themselves and their parties.
The result? These SKOL soldiers genuinely conquered Carnival and hosted some of the most popular parties of the festival. The whole of Brazil was talking about these parties. SKOL put their customers at the center of the event, not their product.
Emotional Intelligence: It’s All About Empathy
It all started with SKOL accurately reading the emotions of their customers and seeing what made them tick. Without that approach, the company never would have discovered the military-like mentality or the military terms that their customers used to plan Carnival events, which gave SKOL the idea of a massive, well-funded land, sea, and air invasion.
Bottom-line? Empathy is the answer.
When you change the “them” in your company’s view of customers to “us,” you’re on your way to building better emotional intelligence in your brand.