Graphic design of silhouettes of people intersecting for article on why brands must put people first

Until recently, brand centricity has been the status quo approach to marketing. But as trends change, so do branding and marketing tactics. Nowadays, people tend to require increasingly personalised interactions with brands.

So, 21st-century business strategies have turned to humanism as a way of centring on their clients or customers as individuals. Indeed, leading marketing teams, such as the ones behind Apple and Nike, have adapted their marketing campaigns to focus on the customer. Their success shows us, time and time again, why brands must put people first.

In B2B commerce, from a branding perspective, this means acknowledging your potential clients as humans first and foremost, by understanding their needs, values, and pain points. Some of the best-performing B2B companies, like Shopify or Accenture, have made it their explicit goal to centre the human experience in their branding strategies. This has proved a huge opportunity in terms of improving engagement on their social media and building trust, all of which resulted in a competitive advantage and, ultimately, an increased ROI.

Elevate insights show that companies in our sample across nine sectors average an underwhelming 47% in humanism. Elevate scores Humanism based on a number of human-centric indicators within the language, narrative, imagery, navigation and how they are conveyed on aspects of the website. Low humanism ranks could explain low engagement with your brand across social or lack of human language, named team and people imagery. Moreover, not putting people first in defining your brand and online presence could result in a poor user experience.

By adopting a humanist approach to branding, these stats could improve, leading to both positive experiences for your clients, as well as business growth. Thus, we believe that brands must put people first by valuing the human experience at the core of your clients’ choices. For this reason, humanism is one of the 11 branding metrics at the heart of Elevate.

In this article, we’ll explore the role of humanism in branding, as well as share some ways you can improve your human-centric approach.

What is humanism?

Culture connoisseurs will be quick to point out that humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance developed throughout the Renaissance and Enlightenment, that emphasises the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively. With its core pillars of reason, compassion and empathy, it is considered a pivotal movement in modern Western thought – a driving force behind modern practices like education, psychology, politics and ethics.

In branding, a humanistic approach refers to understanding and empathising with the clients’ perspectives. Brands that embrace humanism strive to connect with people on a deeper level, by showing a good perception of their desires, fears, and motivations. By demonstrating that they care about their clients more than just making a profit, brands can build trust and loyalty. Here are some key principles of humanism in branding:

Key principles

  • Transparency. Human-centred brands aim to be transparent and honest about their values, mission, and actions, by avoiding gimmicks, exaggerations, and empty promises. Instead, they focus on building real human connections with their clients.
  • Inclusivity. Brands that embrace humanism seek to be inclusive of all people, regardless of their backgrounds, identities, or beliefs. In doing this, they avoid stereotypes and biases and strive to create a welcoming and accepting environment for all.
  • Purpose. Humanistic brands have a mission or vision that aligns with their clients’ values, and they strive to make a positive impact on society. This implies having a clearly-defined purpose outside of making a profit.
  • Responsiveness. Being responsive to their clients’ needs and concerns is the driving force behind human-centred branding. These brands listen to feedback and take action to address issues or improve their products and services.
  • Sustainability. Humanistic brands are committed to sustainability and environmental responsibility. They strive to minimise their impact on the environment and promote sustainable practices. We explore this topic in-depth in our article on the impact of ESG on a brand’s success.

By adopting these principles, businesses can stand out in a crowded market and build lasting relationships with clients. Here are other reasons why brands must put people first.

Why brands must put people first

  • Authenticity and Trust. The highest-value clients to a business are those who are most aligned with a company’s messaging. They thus become more than your clients – they are now also your advocates. This level of commitment can be achieved by building a strong and loyal client base. A crucial aspect of doing this is putting people at the heart of everything. This means building a brand that resonates with them on a human level, rather than just trying to sell them products.
  • Emotional Connection. A 2022 Frontiers original research article asserts that marketing based on emotional branding increases trust through psychological and emotional communication. In return, this can help you expand your market share as you gain a competitive advantage. We have already explored the benefits of emotional branding, but the gist is that brands that connect with people on an emotional level are more likely to be successful. Humanism in branding is all about creating this emotional connection by understanding and meeting the needs of your clients.
  • Differentiation. Being authentic and emotionally in touch with your clients is a key factor in brand differentiation. As we already know, differentiation is essential in branding strategies. When your company occupies a unique market position, it gains a competitive advantage. This can be achieved by thoroughly understanding your target audience. Through a human-centric strategy, you can approach your target audience as people with unique needs and values, not just as broad and monolithic demographics.
  • Social Responsibility. Research now shows an increasing tendency towards socially-conscious consumption. Indeed, now more than ever, people are interested in brands that demonstrate social responsibility. By implementing humanism in branding, you can take a wider view of the impact of your brand on society and the environment. Furthermore, adopting a humanistic approach also allows you to create a brand that is seen as more socially responsible, in turn helping you attract clients who share your values.

Therefore, building a brand grounded in human values and emotions can create something more likely to stand the test of time. But how can you achieve this?

Human-centric practices

Conduct audience research

When adopting a human-centric approach, it only feels intuitive to first and foremost conduct research into your audience. However, as Forbes suggests, many companies confuse their own needs with their clients’ needs, resulting in ineffective strategies. To fully embrace humanism, B2B companies need to understand their audience’s needs, preferences, and behaviours, to gain insights into what they are looking for, what motivates them to buy, and what factors influence their decision-making. This way, you can actually create a brand that resonates with potential clients on a human level, one that connects with their values, desires, and emotions. The best research methods will depend on your objectives and the target audience, but a good mix of qualitative and quantitative data should inform your insights.

Some effective methods to gain a deeper understanding of your clients are:

  • Surveys. An effective way to gather information from a large number of clients, they can be used to ask specific questions that indicate their preferences, opinions, and behaviours.
  • Focus groups and interviews. By bringing together a small group of your clients, you can discuss a specific topic or product. Alternatively, you can conduct 1-2-1 interviews to gauge individual preferences and behaviours. This insight can be used to gain an in-depth comprehension of your clients’ opinions and behaviours, as well as to gather feedback on new products or services.
  • Online analytics. Through these, you can track people’s actions on your website or social media platforms. This provides valuable insights into their preferences and behaviours, which in turn will help you optimise your online presence.
  • User testing. By asking people to test new products or services and provide feedback on their experience, you can identify pain points and improve the user experience.

Prioritise diversity and inclusivity

A 2021 Deloitte report shows that younger generations are more cognisant of diversity in advertisements than older ones. While diverse advertisement proved to be the decisive factor at the time of purchase, just marketing diversity wasn’t enough – 57% of this sample of consumers developed loyalty to brands that proved their commitment to diversity, through inclusion practices. Diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers once said that “[d]iversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” This ethos should be carried into your business’s humanistic approach to branding.

From a branding perspective, there are some practices that promote diversity and inclusion:

  • Imagery. Putting in the effort to consistently represent diverse communities in your branding is the first step towards embracing a humanistic approach. To do so, you can work with models of different races, ages, body types, and abilities in your campaigns.
  • Language. Your use of language in your messaging can prove your commitment to inclusion. Inclusive messaging includes avoiding gendered language and using appropriate pronouns.
  • Collaboration. In creating your branding materials, consider collaborating with diverse communities and individuals, ensuring that their perspectives are represented in the final product.
  • Accessibility. Inclusivity goes beyond aesthetics. Your strategies need to ensure that your branding materials and messaging are also accessible to people with disabilities. Websites can be made accessible by implementing features such as alt tags for images, transcripts for audio and video content, and keyboard-only navigation. Other design practices to cater to visually impaired individuals include using high-contrast colours, large text, and clear typography, as discussed in our previous post on the importance of branding in web design.

Start with your people

A people-centric approach first requires a people-centric work culture. In other words, businesses should practice what they preach. With younger generations increasingly perceptive to social injustices, a buzzword-ridden mission statement on your “About” page isn’t enough anymore. Your company needs to prove its commitment to its people’s well-being, from ensuring accessibility and inclusivity practices to offering appropriate and flexible work conditions. This is not only advantageous from a communications perspective, as it signals your humanistic values to your audience, but it can also boost engagement, retention, productivity and creativity within your workforce.

In conclusion

To connect with today’s audiences, successful branding strategies must shift towards humanism, by acknowledging your audience as humans first, and understanding their values, pain points, and needs. Brands that centre on humanism are transparent, and inclusive, and have a clearly-defined purpose. They are responsive and committed to their core values, which they prove through their practices. By adopting a human-centric strategy, B2B businesses can build trust and lasting relationships with their clients, which can result in a competitive advantage through differentiation.

Find out where you rank

Dusted is a specialist strategic branding, activation and digital agency. We work with some of the most ambitious, innovative and game-changing businesses in the world, blending strategy, creativity and technology to solve their branding and multi-channel activation challenges.

Our benchmarking and brand performance programme Elevate ranks our top 50 companies across the Technology, Finance and Business Services sectors, based on 11 key metrics (including Humanism) aggregating some 50+ data points. By working with us, Elevate can work out where you rank in relation to your competitors, what best practice looks like and how to create a competitive advantage.

If you’re considering implementing or improving humanism in your services, don’t hesitate to get in touch!