The Dawn of the ‘Human Era’ Brand

ben padly What makes us human? It may come as a surprise to hear that brands all over the world, from start-ups to blue-chip corporations, are beginning to ask themselves this exact same question. In an industry where consumers continue to crave that personal touch, businesses are forced to take stock of how they communicate with the human beings browsing their products and services via computer screens, and not just the ‘end users’. In an interesting survey conducted by the brand strategy firm Lippincott and the advertising agency Hill Holliday, the duo formed the ‘Human Era Index’ which questioned 5,000 consumers on how 300 industry brands really make them feel. Are these brands friendly, transparent and more importantly, honest? Are they exciting to engage with and are they truthful, even regarding their weaknesses? As a result, the index produced a top ten list of ‘brands that act like people’, including Virgin Atlantic, John Lewis, Samsung and wagamama. Let’s take a look at these brands of the Human Era and how this sentiment is successfully communicated across the social domain.

Friendliest airline: Emirates

Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates scored 10/10 on the Human Era Index as the top airline brand. Awarded World’s Best Airline in 2013, Emirates delivers a premium on-board service from economy through to first class, with staff striving to provide impeccable service across all of its international flight paths. With over 2.5 million Likes on Facebook and nearly 2 million followers on Google+, the airline incorporates a unique and interesting mix of posts to communicate and engage with its customer base. Recent examples include a video from the cockpit marking a maiden voyage, a clip of a new airplane being painted, and an image of Emirates flight attendants celebrating with passengers all over the world, wishing fans and followers a Happy Republic Day, Australia Day and Valentine’s Day, among many. The airline is also quick to respond to customer queries and any grievances voiced across the platforms – a popular way for audiences to reach out to brands directly. This vigilance, paired with unique and interesting content ranging from the passenger seat to the runway, makes for an enjoyable and transparent brand experience for consumers.

Friendliest financial service: Nationwide

Graham Beale, CEO of Nationwide, told Lippincott: “We have a part to play, as a leader and sharer of best practice, in shaping a new financial services sector focused on transparency, honesty and long-term benefits.” Not only does this ethos resonate across advertising campaigns with its current slogan, ‘Nationwide, on your side’, but it also works hard to preserve this image across its social media platforms. On Twitter, the building society’s primary account offers titbits of helpful research and advice regarding real-life situations, such as how much money families are currently spending (and could be saving) on children in addition to pocket money, and ideas for a cheap night in after the annual Christmas splurge. Surprise and delight gestures are also retweeted, such as a welcome box of goodies supplied to a new homeowner, which help to further instil the empathetic values of the brand. The Twitter handle itself, @AskNationwide, actively encourages followers to use the channel as a Q&A forum – a bold move considering the volume of complaints received by banking institutions via social media, but a candid one nevertheless.

Friendliest restaurant: YO! Sushi

Founded by the entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe OBE, the Japanese sushi chain YO! Sushi soon shot to popularity after its first Soho-based restaurant opened in 1997. At YO! Sushi, visitors are invited to sit at communal tables and select their meal from a range of fresh dishes produced in a central ‘theatre kitchen’ and sent around on conveyer belts. This friendly, no-holds-barred relationship established between employees and the customer has been at the forefront of the restaurant’s agenda from day one, and doesn’t just stop at the quirky menu. Its Twitter page (currently at 39.2K followers) uses a relaxed approach to communicate with its audience on the fascinating theme of Japanese culture, covering topics ranging from traditional snacks enjoyed at certain times of the year to novelty prize giveaways to the latest menu additions. Robin Rowland, CEO at YO! Sushi, told Marketing Week: “Transparency is what we always aim for; chefs cook in front of the customers and we serve 6.5 million people a year – that doesn’t happen without a lot of trust.” Thus far, this open, carefree method of communicating with the customer has served the brand well, and continues to attract new diners through its doors every year.

Friendliest supermarket: Waitrose

Awarded 6.6 out of 10 as the top supermarket, Waitrose succeeds with strong community values and high standards of customer service and loyalty, both towards its employees and its shoppers, and these qualities continue to earn the store a wealth of devoted followers. The myWaitrose loyalty programme rewards shoppers with money-off deals, the chance to win their weekly shop in regular competition draws and a complimentary hot drink each time they visit. The staff, also referred to as ‘partners’, are made to feel a sense of belonging in a workplace where knowledge and a friendly manner towards customers are recognised hand in hand. Online, the Waitrose Facebook Page offers fans a colourful feed of delicious and exclusive recipe ideas, both via links and video tutorials with celebrity chefs, together with the latest community-based updates, such as new store openings and appeals for flood donations. Its Twitter page, currently with a staggering 126K followers, also combines colourful image-led tweets of the latest products and recipe ideas with stories straight from the community. Retweets of satisfied customers also help represent the food retailer in a positive light in its ongoing pledge to treat the customer as number one.

With over 15 years of experience in sales and marketing, Ben Padley is the Marketing Director at Phones 4U, managing key areas including brand and advertising, consumer propositions and product lifecycle management. Previously, he was the Global Vice President at Sony Ericsson (now Sony Mobile), Barclaycard’s first Global Digital Director and has worked extensively in local and global marketing roles supporting the agenda of the Chief Marketing Officer.