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Stop “Humaning” and Get Back to Being Human

December 02, 2020


Stop “Humaning” and Get Back to Being Human

I talk about a lot about how we need to get to the core of our brands, our essence. We need to connect with our customers on a deeper level, to tap into the reasons they love our brands. And we talk about how all our relationship building with customers has to be informed by our essence.

So, you might think that a marketing strategy called “humaning”—which says it's all about ditching the data and connecting with customers—would be right up my alley.

But it doesn’t actually get to the core of what I’m talking about. In fact, it kind of misses the point in a spectacular way.

Why “Humaning” Isn’t the Same as Just Being Human

In a lot of ways, the core of my marketing philosophy or strategy or whatever you want to call it is about being human. At the end of the day, a business and a brand is a thing built by humans for other humans.

People make your business run. People buy your products. When we want to connect with our customers or understand them, we have to remember that people are at the centre of everything we do. People make up marketing strategies, and people buy or don’t buy from a brand.

So, what does that mean? It means we need to be human. In some ways, that just means being ourselves—to a degree.

So, what’s wrong with “humaning” then? The fundamentals say that this approach should focus on empathy, listening, and using insights to make better products.

That sounds, on the surface, like what I preach. So what’s wrong with it?

You can see it in the fact they gave the strategy a quirky corporatized name: “humaning.”

Giving the strategy this name suggests that whoever came up with the strategy read the fundamentals and kind of … missed the point.

We Don’t Need to Know How to “Human”

Like I said, the name gives us a hint here. “Humaning” sounds like we’re a bunch of robots who need to emulate actual human behaviour.

And that’s the crux of the issue here. Whoever put this together read the words and thought it sounded good, but they didn’t get it. They didn’t feel it.

That’s evident in the description of what “humaning” is. It uses buzzwords like “empathetic” and talks about getting customer feedback, but there’s something hollow about it.

And that’s because this is a corporatized version of what I talk about. It takes the language, the fundamentals, and hollows them out.

To do that is to miss the entire point. The entire point is to stop thinking like a corporation. We have to start thinking—and feeling—like human beings!

Putting the Focus on the Organic

I mentioned that “humaning” makes Marketers sound like robots. That’s what’s wrong with this strategy: it’s not organic.

What I talk about is organic, whereas “humaning” is inorganic. It’s someone who read the literature and said, “Hey, guys, this will help us make more money.” Everyone else in the room said, “Cool!”

That’s how we get “humaning.” It separates the ideas from their roots—which is that we need to feel our brands on a cellular level, that everything we do should be organic to our brands.

“Humaning” sounds inorganic because it is. It’s taken out that key component—feeling. As much as it touts tossing caution to the wind and adopting what should seem like a more human approach, it’s still about algorithms:

“… to deliver the right snack, at the right time …”

That misses the deeper reasons people buy certain brands and why they connect over food. The brand’s purpose isn’t to “deliver the right snack at the right time.” Sure, the copy mentions delight—but what else do people turn to food for? Food can be a source of connection, but what emotions are bound up in food? Memories, nostalgia, delight, great conversation with a friend, laughter, family, tradition.

When we take the focus off those emotions and put it on making sure we’re delivering “the right snack,” we have a problem. Are we designing perfect snacks for when people are feeling down after a nasty break-up too?

That feels … a bit cringeworthy, doesn’t it? And it exposes how hollow this strategy is, how much it isn’t about actually being human. Instead, we can see that the strategy is part of a marketing machine that’s happy to capitalize on whatever happens to be presented to it—even human misery.

Worse: the strategy talks not about people, but humans. And yes, we all want to be treated like human beings. We need to remember we’re human when we’re putting together our marketing strategies. But we talk to people and we have relationships with people. Saying we’re going to make relationships with “humans” makes it sound like we’re aliens. That’s what this strategy is. Alien.

So, How Do We “Be Human”?

We don’t need to learn how to human. It’s not something that can be taught in a class. It’s not something we can consciously practice on a day-to-day basis—not like the verb “humaning” suggests anyway.

We need to get back to our roots, our essence, our core. We don’t need “humaning,” because we were human all along. There’s a huge gulf between this kind of thing and actually being human.

So, what do I mean when I say “being human” mean? It means, first off, not giving in to the desire to corporatize and hollow out this philosophy. It means dispensing with the corporate way of thinking about marketing, like being human can be taught and pasted on to a brand. It can’t; the human side of our brand has to come from deep down, within the brand itself. We have to feel it on a cellular level.

Being human almost doesn’t need a strategy, because it should feel that natural and normal. A strategy document is always a good idea, though—it lays down your values and provides guidelines for how to act. But it’s also imminently flexible.

Sure, “being human” means listening to customers and empathizing and meeting their needs. It also means setting aside “profit motive,” the idea that we’re using those insights to sell people something. It means knowing our values, living our values, and feeling confident that our every action puts those values into play.

We can focus on delight—if that’s what our customers buy from us. But we need to get down beneath that and figure out why our brand or our products are delightful. And that comes back to core values. This is not taking relationship marketing and pasting it on to our brands with a new name.

Being human is hard to explain—because it’s something we feel. It’s intuitive, natural, and normal. It just … fits. It feels right. When something comes along that feels forced—like “humaning”—we know we’re off track. If we’re really being human, it should almost be imperceptible. It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain, and it should feel that way because we shouldn’t have to explain it, to a degree.

Instead, we should be talking about our values. Actions speak louder than words, and shouting about how “human” your brand is … kind of misses the point. If you’re really being human—and I mean being human—then you shouldn’t be talking about it. It’s so natural and normal that you shouldn’t need to talk about being human in particular.

So if we find ourselves touting how our marketing is so human, we’ve likely missed the point. That means it’s time to step back and re-evaluate. What are our brand values? What do we actually stand for? 

And—like always—we have to remember to start with the why!


Here to inspire!

I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing is inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles I have written to inspire others.

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