Human relationships were reduced to a minimum in one of the most surreal chapters in history, headlined by a pandemic that has left us yearning for experiences that can make us feel human again.
And it’s no exception in the world of business.
As we look to the post-pandemic future, brands should put human connection at the heart of their strategies to earn the trust of customers whose demands are shifting in an increasingly crowded digital landscape.
Both in the B2B and B2C space, people are seeking out businesses that treat them as living, breathing human beings—not just numbers.
Now the million-dollar question is how human touch can be articulated into a tangible form in a marketing context and in the age of automation.
Vic Vaswani, head of integrated marketing and growth at venture builder and accelerator FedTech, believes there are several steps that brands can take to incorporate the human element and nurture a lasting relationship with their customers.
The first thing to bear in mind, according to him, is that trust is the foundation of all human-to-human relationships and is more important than ever as “we’re still coming out of a very tumultuous year of change and uncertainty”.
Citing the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, Vic said trust is the second most important factor in the buying decisions of consumers after price, with social impact and personal vulnerability around health, financial stability, and privacy being among the reasons why brand trust has become crucial.
He maintains that the power of transparency, authenticity, recognizability, relevance, reliability, creativity, and empathy can be leveraged to build and sustain trust with customers.
In Vic’s view, transparency begets trust so he recommends that marketers share examples of social proof with their audience, including customer reviews and testimonials, on different platforms such as their website and social media.
“It portrays you as a legitimate and trustworthy company, which makes it easier for customers to build a relationship with you.”
His point echoes the results of studies that show people are significantly more loyal to brands that are fully transparent about different aspects of their business.
Vic, who worked on building brands like Intel, Microsoft, Printronix Auto ID, Ingram Micro Cloud, and CloudBlue before joining FedTech, is also a firm believer in authenticity.
“Customers and prospects want to see what you stand for,” he said, adding a brand needs to stand for a mission that is larger than the business itself and should explicitly showcase it on all platforms.
Vic advises brands against only changing their brand colors or putting social media banners for a day or a month to celebrate a particular social issue. Instead, he says, they should make the causes they embrace shine through their activities and communications all year round.
“If they only pay lip service for that period of time and then avoid that issue for the rest of the year, customers will see right through that and will cast doubt on your authenticity,” he explained, while emphasizing that message consistency elevates authenticity.
Recognizability, in his opinion, is built more into an experience that a person has with a product or service and plays a key role in humanizing a brand.
“The recognition I’m talking about comes from sensory branding that builds more of a relationship and deepens trust. It’s not even visual. It’s a perception,” he said, referring to the elements of sonic branding.
He highlighted sounds associated with distinct experiences like the tone we hear when we turn on an Apple computer, or the unique sonic identity of Mastercard.
Industry experts agree that audio branding is often neglected, with few brands having focused on developing their sonic brand and creating a strong association with it.
Vic says “the sound of a brand” is as important as a brand logo or color scheme and helps enhance the brand experience. “Marketing leaders are realizing that with attention so fleeting, visual stimuli alone won’t do. You have to build layers around your brand that cut through the clutter and make an impact.”
The head of growth marketing at FedTech has observed that many brands lose sight of the significance of relevance, which is another decisive factor in building trust-based relationships with consumers.
“Everyone talks about brand awareness, which is all well and good, but being able to build brand relevance is very important as well. Communicating that relevance to your customer at the right time is also essential. It goes a long way in highlighting your organization as a trusted problem solver.”
The best way to stay relevant is to listen to customers across different channels and tailor products and services to their ongoing needs, he noted.
“Reliability is built by being more dynamic and personal with your outreach to customers and prospects and understanding that similar to any relationship coming on too strong can sometimes erode trust and be off-putting,” Vic said.
He considers it vital “to respect the time and attention of consumers and not to inundate them with irrelevant emails and messages or irritating cold calls.”
Timing is everything, the marketing expert emphasized, adding the power of data can be harnessed to glean insights that can help a business measure purchase intent or know if it is the right time to approach a specific group of customers.
In the B2B sector in particular, he says a great way to ensure reliability is to prioritize educating prospects on where the industry is, where the vertical is stranding, and what the future holds for that specific field.
“Then you can talk about your solution because, at the end of the day, they’ll have learned something from you even if they don’t do business with you at that moment. They’ll associate your brand with being a subject matter expert, which will build that aura of reliability. And when they’re ready to make that purchase or they’re ready to be in the market down the road, you’ll be the first one that comes to mind because you helped them gain a better understanding of the challenges they are facing.”
Creativity is another attribute that, as Vic says, is essential in today’s era of digital advertising where people are being bombarded with marketing messages.
“A creative, inspirational, or anamusing message that is able to elicit an emotion from people makes you memorable because it causes them to associate that feeling with your brand,” he noted, adding multiple studies have found that buyers—even in the B2B sector—are more drawn to brands that tap into their feelings.
“In the B2B world especially marketers can be guilty of being partial to proof points, and letting the more emotional side take a bit of a back seat. It is important to realize that the purchasing decision is very personal.”
Storytelling, according to him, is one of the creative and effective ways for a message to reach an audience and can inspire many.
Vic also advises marketers to tap into and nurture their empathy and proposes a four-step approach to cultivate this skill: Think like a human, see like a human, feel like a human, and act like a human.
He argues that such an attitude will help brands avoid some common traps such as overcomplicating their message with technical jargon or using abstract and hackneyed stock images that are void of human feelings.
Brand as a promise
Vic says his long years of experience in brand and digital marketing has proven to him time and again that “a brand is a promise”.
And that promise is one that must be kept at all costs, he said, adding that the promise of newly rebranded FedTech is to democratize technology and ensure equity of access to resources for aspirant entrepreneurs.
Disclaimer: This article mentions a client of an Espacio portfolio company.