We Are Not Targets, We Are People

I’ve heard two words in every brainstorm and pitch I’ve ever attended – target audience. It’s time we eradicate these words forever.

Our most sacred document doesn’t begin “We the target audience,” it begins “We the people.” Let’s not ignore the wisdom of our founding fathers any longer.

Today more than ever, the holy grail of marketing is an ever-deepening emotional connection – humanization of brands. Externally and internally, brands need to engage their audiences as people. It’s not enough to know how a person behaves in a certain category – how and when they drink coffee, take a pain reliever, purchase a car. Instead, we need to look at the deep-seeded human behaviors that make us who we really are, and in turn inform our decisions – household dynamics, gender differences, the nuances of a millennial versus a boomer household.

Enter The Human Project – a multi-generational study just released by Zeno Group, in partnership with CEB Iconoculture. Our inspiration is straightforward and profound: People want brands to act like their best friend. Successful brands inherently understand the behaviors and values that compel people’s decision-making. The most successful brands take on human characteristics themselves.

Given our society’s dramatically changing landscape, companies are finding it increasingly challenging to connect with, and appeal to, people in a deep and meaningful way. And like the small group of friends we rely on for those life-affirming relationships, so too are people selecting an increasingly smaller group of brands they will take into their hearts and minds. We are all looking for – even demanding – something more from the companies we do business with, something authentic and credible: A connection and a relationship that transcends the functional. The companies that recognize this will build a stronger business, because their customers won’t just buy their products, they’ll become brand evangelists too.

The Human Project has just released its first tranche of data and introduced a new brand mapping tool, The Brand Humanizer. It’s clear already that adjusting our vision to see consumers and other audiences as people first and foremost will turn conventional wisdom on its head. Consider these initial findings:

  • Scratch the video of parents shaking their heads in disbelief as their kids burrow into smartphones and tablets. Almost half – 49 percent – of parents say their children’s time using tech devices is just fine, 31 percent say their kids should use devices a bit less, and only 15 percent say children should categorically use technology devices less.
  • Counter-intuitively, Active Families – the ones who are busiest and with the most pressing time commitments – place a higher priority on sex than people with more free time (and, presumably, more time for pleasure). Sexuality ranks 23rd out of 92 values for Active Families, compared with 53rd for everyone else. Fully 62 percent give it a top two box rating, beating out security and identity.

No question there are companies and brands that know how to tap into the humanization of brands. As far back as the early 1990’s the then unknown-to-consumers chemical company BASF worked with now-defunct ad agency stalwart Geer Dubois on its “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy; we make a lot of the products you buy better” campaign. The letters BASF are now familiar to millions. Today we see Intel, IBM, Cisco, GE, SAP all working to humanize their brands with wonderfully emotional content that pulls you in whether you understand – or care – about what they’re selling. What we see is a brand addressing a highly relatable human truth that moves us as people.

The rewards of humanizing brands aren’t the playground of a select few, but are possible for all companies and organizations, regardless of size, industry or product category. This larger conversation begins today with The Human Project.

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