On September 18, Corey Mull wrote an article for Ad Age titled, “No, Brands Aren’t People – and Consumers Don’t Want Them To Be.” The title got my attention for several reasons. First, for as long as I have been in the online world, and maybe for as long as the “online world” has been around, people have talked about the “humanization of brands.” Indeed, that was part of the allure of social media. You’re not just Joe Johnson, you’re Joe Johnson of Acme Company. The company became human. The company got a human face.
The innocuous question: What do people want?
Mull isn’t so sure about that whole line of thinking. He writes, “People are complex organisms, products of tens of thousands of years of evolution. Brands are a device invented relatively recently to make it easier for consumers to identify a product and differentiate it from its competitors. Most people, when encountering brands online, realize that there may be humans associated with it, but the brand itself isn’t a person.”
Even more lethal to the idea of a “human brand” are the states that Mull cites from a 2011 CEB survey. Mull notes that 61% of survey respondents said they joined brand Facebook pages for discounts, 55% for offers. The concept of joining a touchy-feely community did not rank. Mull also notes that the survey revealed 70% of survey participants said they wait to decide on a brand until they’re ready to buy something. All of that engagement, while it might make your company feel good, isn’t really doing a whole lot for your potential customers. Mull writes, “we found that only 23% of consumers have brand relationships – and they are already fans of the brand in question. The rest aren’t interested in a relationship, regardless of whether they like a brand or not.”
So what’s the value of a “personal brand” then?
If you are on board with Mull’s perspective, it seems like your conclusion would be that the value of “humanizing your brand” has been overstated. If that’s the case, could we not also posit that maybe the concept of “personal brands” has also been overstated? If we agree that humans are complex organisms (some moreso than others) while brands are…not, and if we agree that people are not interested in having relationships with brands, could we not go out on a limb and say that if you are trying to depersonalize yourself by calling yourself a brand you might actually be hurting yourself?
Instead of “personal brands” I think perhaps we need to shift the focus to “personable brands.” In other words, maintain your own individual humanity – invite people to form relationships with you, person-to-person. BUT do not separate yourself entirely from what you do. As people build relationships with you, they can also be made aware that you’re great at fixing cards, building marketing campaigns, moving furniture, or whatever else you do. Their relationship with you (a human) can tip the scale towards your brand (not a human) when they are ready to purchase your type of product or service.
So what do you think? Is this enough to kill the concept of personal branding? If not, why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts!