The Soda Academy
"Marketing today is all about providing value."
"Brands would do well to remember that empathy will be hard for a robot to fake."

Sandy Fleischer, Pound & Grain

The Fight to Speak Human

The Fight to Speak Human

Today most brands have come to realize that they need to be able to speak to consumers in a human way. However, the transition from theory to practice has been a struggle for many.

Speaking human is a pretty important step on the path towards relating to and connecting with people. With so much choice, so many channels, and so many interactions along the user journey, brands have to consciously commit to speaking human, or they run the risk of losing out to those that can. If we factor in the move to marketing automation, programmatic creative, and even AI powered bots, this struggle to speak human becomes even more challenging.

We have no issue collecting endless data in order to serve up the right message to the right person at the right time. Then, after investing all that time, money and effort, we mostly ignore the data and behave like mindless zombie drones. We forget that these high-tech tools should not be treated as ends in themselves, but rather as vehicles to maximize communications with real people.

Speaking human is extraordinarily complex. If you’ve read a new brand book this year, you’ve no doubt realized that everyone seems to be talking about ensuring that their brand voice is human (see also: friendly, straightforward). And we are challenged by the fact that brand tone can change depending on context. So it’s no wonder brands misfire on social media from time to time. They are trying to be human. And being human is super hard.

In order to do our part, we’ve put together some human steps to help save humanity! No big deal.

Step 1: Personality is table stakes

Being more human can start small. Really small. Mailchimp is a great example of this. They give high fives, they do some mild personalization, and say problem solved.

Step 1

Step 2: Cat GIFs are the new free smiles

Marketing today is all about providing value. You want something from a consumer, what do you have for them? Just like high fives, small things of value can be shared. There’s plenty of stuff brands can give out in the media. While social isn’t always free, retweeting or sharing the occasional Cat GIF is. Seriously, it’s that simple. Bringing a smile to someone’s face is an easy way to show you are human.

Step 2

Step 3: Talking human is no substitute for being one

While we live in an era of dropping a pin to get a ride, it’s amazing that customer service is still the most human of humanness. Brands would do well to remember that empathy will be hard for a robot to fake. Here’s a great example of how Jet Blue acted human in a social feed. Sure they’d rather the incident never happened, but when life gives you lemons…

Step 3

Step 4: Nothing is more human that radical transparency

Is there any greater proof of speaking like a human than just letting things all hang out? Transparency is another way that you can show what you stand for.

Step 5: Connecting beyond the interface. A huge part of the battle is just getting users up to speed on something new. Who knows…the bite-sized audio app, Anchor, may go nowhere or it may be the next Meerkat. Regardless, their onboarding process is so slick, seamless and effortless that you have to try it out. The scary good part was how quickly their team members did audio welcomes directly to me within minutes of signing up. Almost too real time and too human.

Step 4

Step 6: Pushing boundaries, alienate the old people Another way to let your personality shine through is by speaking to your specific audience. SnapChat, which racks up 8 billion video views a day, has turned discovery into a major component of using the app. We love how SnapChat deliberately makes their UI challenging for, erm, “age-challenged” individuals (Full disclosure, I am over 40 and therefore have absolutely no idea how SnapChat works. And I’m not afraid to admit it. Index that, Google robot!).

Step 7: Even the bots, can show us how to be human Bots too are beginning to make the leap to speak human. Slack does an amazing job of this. I fell in love with the product before I was even sure what it did. All thanks to the Slack Bot (Hey there buddy, I hope you read this article!). Imagine if we applied the “Turing Test” to brands, to help a brand prove it’s human.

Step 5

Haven’t we heard all of this before? Isn’t this just human-centered design, user experience, customer experience, or user first marketing? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Speaking human is the art of doing all these things right all of the time. But leave it to marketers to come up with new jargon to say, “let’s speak human.” We are the worst.

Like in the movie Inception, we’ve managed to perpetuate the problem in our own proposed solution, underscoring just how hard this is to do. Of course we are flawed, and the best of us aren’t afraid to make those mistakes. Melodramatic or not it makes sense to lead with the heart and not with the head. It’s only human after all.

About the author:

Sandy is a 20-year veteran of the digital marketing space and currently serves as Managing Partner at Pound & Grain, a digital creative agency. Sandy sits on the board of DigiBC, a non-profit organization with a mission to promote, support and accelerate the growth, competitiveness and sustainability of British Columbia’s digital media and wireless industry. In another life, Sandy is known as DJ Pescatore and on a good day can juggle four tennis balls.

Illustration by Taiwan-based illustrator, Kuocheng Liao