Why brands need to be human to the core to thrive

NOTE: Kass Sells revisited this topic after the COVID-19 outbreak in his blog post "The Moment of Truth Is Here. Authenticity Is the Way Forward"


Recently, Microsoft unveiled its Xbox Adaptive Controller, which makes gaming more accessible to people with limited mobility. The controller was not only endlessly adaptable, allowing for endless configurations catering to a wide range of limited mobility gamers, it was also an industry first — and a clarion call for other gaming hardware manufacturers to follow suit. It was equal parts good business, good design and pure goodness.


It’s also a great example of a brand being ahead of the curve on one of the consumer expectations outlined in our 2019 Brands in Motion global study: being human to the core. That expectation goes beyond making statements or nice-sounding press releases — for a brand to be truly human, the work must be human as well.



What does human to the core look like? It means being human on both a macro and micro level. On a macro level, Brands in Motion uncovered that 83% of consumers think brands could be capable of providing stability — an important expectation to satisfy in these unstable times. Fifty-four percent expect brands to balance a great product with powerful purpose and activism, and 74% expect brands to take a stand on important issues.

On the micro level, Brands in Motion indicates that consumers have higher expectations than ever about how brands and technology fit into their lives — seamlessly and conveniently. Consumers feel a tension about technology in their lives. Although it liberates their workstyle and lets them do more in less time, 69% also say that change is happening too fast, and 55% feel forced to adapt to changes in technology. Brands that can ease that tension and build products that fit seamlessly and painlessly into consumers’ lives and routines stand to benefit.

Brands in Motion also found that consumers want brands to move into a more emotional space. In 2018, rational expectations outpaced the need for an emotional connection with brands. In 2019, emotional scores started to close the gap — up 3% YoY. Consumer love will be driven by more than a product or customer service — it will be driven by a shared understanding of humanity.

Consumers want action. Statements of purpose and good intentions are no longer enough. Go back to the work you're creating. Every piece of creative, every communication, every customer touchpoint is an opportunity to tell a human story. We need to understand how we can help our brands stay relevant, original and impactful.




For brands, discovering your purpose is an ongoing process. The research we published in partnership with Quartz Insights earlier this year, “Leading With Purpose in an Age Defined by It,” backs this viewpoint: Brands need to find their soul, cultivate it and learn how to speak from it in an authentic way if they want to keep consumer love.

Mirinda is a soda brand beloved by young people in India that responded to an increase in stress disorders and negative health impacts put upon students to succeed with its powerful “Release the Pressure” campaign. It depicted real students’ struggles with pressure put upon them by their families and society in a way that demonstrated it understood what truly matters to its audience. It might seem out there for a soda company to be initiating a conversation about mental health awareness, but it did so with genuine heart.



Brands in Motion found that consumers see the ethical use of technology as everyone's responsibility: brands, government and consumers. Ninety-seven percent of consumers felt that companies have a responsibility to use technology ethically, 96% agreed consumers have a responsibility to use technology ethically and 94% agreed that the government has a responsibility to ensure companies use technology ethically. When it comes to tech, we believe in collective accountability, and when accountability is collective, respect goes both ways.

In the past decade, fast fashion brands have been the center of many conversations around sustainability, particularly in Europe, where younger consumers are highly invested in environmental issues and climate change. Inditex (owners of Zara, Massimo Dutti and Pull&Bear) responded to these consumer conversations by announcing the entirety of its collections will be made from 100% sustainable fabrics before 2025. By listening and respecting consumers’ desires, Inditex is establishing accountability when it comes to environmental practices. Most important, it’s changing how it creates clothing its customers love and how it shows up in the world.



Brands in Motion found that 53% of consumers want to see brands doing good for the environment at both local and global levels — and 40% of consumers are actually more interested in the local. Global change is good, but global change with visibility in your customers’ day-to-day is better.

IKEA is a great example — it built two huge replicas of its kids' bath boat toy and deployed them in the Thames in London to clear trash from the river. It paired that with a waterway sustainability education program for local families. All of this was in support of its new sustainable store in the area, which of course ladders up to its larger corporate goals around sustainability.

As communicators, it’s our job to encourage brands to execute work that connects with their customers on a human level and to amplify and celebrate it when we see it. In everything we do, we should be asking ourselves these three questions:

  1. How does my brand fit into all my customers’ lives?
  2. How can I best tell the story of my brand doing good in the world?
  3. Are my brand’s relationships with customers built on a foundation of mutual respect?

Our Brands in Motion study holds powerful insights to drive counsel around this. If your brand’s going to survive the motion and keep up, our study is where you need to start.

October 10, 2019