Human Brands

Are the bots running the show?

These days there is certainly some backlash against our seemingly algorithm controlled world, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Amazon. Design and Copywriting tailored specifically for SEO (see our previous article HEO not SEO). There is a sense that it’s the bots that are controlling what we see and do, what we listen to, what we buy, what we think. When something goes wrong it’s the fault of the algorithm, not a person. Trust is being eroded.

— John, for MYB Textiles, by Mark Huskisson.

Perhaps that is the case for some of us anyway but there is always a way around it. From a particular personal perspective, as an avid record buyer back in the day, the world of streaming music platforms like Spotify has taken some understanding. Finding ways around the algorithm curated playlists into the deeper layers of discovery, using the platform more like a series of record shops, with that sense of a personally curated collection, or like mixtapes made by friends or artists you enjoy. It’s not immediately that easy to do but it’s possible, you just need to take a different approach to the one that has been designed for profit.

Maybe this is the same for all things. There is the easy way and then there is the way that will reward you more. Look for the things that people have made.

— Nancy & Melissa, for Todd & Duncan, by Armando Ferrari.

Human centric

With all of this as a backdrop, at Graphical House we like to think about brands from the perspective of the people involved. Not just the business owners and staff but the people who they are attempting to connect with. Their clients, audience or customers, their collaborators and even competitors. What are they looking to get out of the experience? This approach feels important for a multitude of reasons but not least because it’s simply people that matter most at the end of the day.

With any project it’s really important to understand the motivations of the business, the people who have built or are starting it, why they are doing it, what they hope to achieve and get out of it in the short, medium and long-term. How do they feel about what they do? Does it make them happy and if not why? Is there something that could happen that could change this? These and many more questions and considerations can really inform the goals of the project, the strategies that can be applied to achieve them and the means by which success can be measured. Can the success of a project be measured by how happy it makes someone? Yes it can.

This kind of approach also builds a deeper connection between our clients and our team, meaning clearer lines of communication and faster more efficient processes when a project is up and running. This is one of the reasons we don’t currently employ account handlers. As a small and agile team we like to nurture a direct connection between the client and the people doing the work.

— Audrey, for the University of the West of Scotland, by Gordon Burniston.

Real experiences

Thinking about the audience for our projects, be they ecommerce customers, service users, exhibition visitors or whoever, their experiences are key. These experiences begin at their first point of contact with a brand and continue for as long as they are engaged, which we hope will be a long time. These experiences are complex and occur at multiple points throughout the audience interactions.

There is design, how does the brand look? The word TypeFACE is not accidental, even at its most basic level design is expressing something. What is it saying?

Does the design communicate clearly? Does it appeal to the users aesthetic sensibilities? Does it stand out within the market? Does it challenge where needed? Does it express the values and personality of the brand? Are the interactions, both personal, physical and digital, well crafted with the user at the forefront? Is everything consistent, all the time, on all platforms, making it easily recognisable?

Then there is content – imagery, video and of course words. How can these communicate on a more human level, can the user see themselves within the content? Would they use those words? Can they relate? Yes an aspirational image can be important but not if it is unrelatable, then it becomes alienating.

Telling the story is key, if a brand is to be human then it can’t be faceless. Not literally of course, but it has to have the qualities of a person. A character and personality, a voice, a purpose. Often these will come from the founders and maybe the staff. Extensions of the how, what and why the brand came to exist in the first place, refined and presented in just the right way. The real people behind the brand. But sometimes there needs to be less of a direct connection to these people in which case the audience becomes even more important, who they are, their worldview, can inform and structure the human qualities of the brand, they can see themselves reflected.

— Alison Harley, for Paisley is, by Reuben Paris.

Beyond selling

We also like to think about how a brand can enrich the lives of its audience beyond just selling them something nice or providing a good service. The idea that a brand can also educate and inform (not in a patronising way) addressing issues that their audience may face, providing thought leadership. This can work in multiple ways, the brand becomes more useful to their audience, more valued and worthwhile.

There is a huge amount of work to be done here. Not just allowing the audience to see themselves in the brands they interact with but also feeling like those brands are on their side, and working towards solutions and positive change. 2020 has really brought these ideas home to roost. More and more people are looking for brands to have purpose and integrity. Audiences are seeing through the shallow and vacuous and are looking for depth. This doesn’t always need to be on a grand political scale, all change is good, small change becomes bigger.

— Romi, Una & Dieny, for Saalt, by Gordon Burniston.

Keep it human

Many brands start out with the best intentions, keeping those in mind and at the forefront is difficult as the business becomes successful, new people take over, new decisions are made and new directions pursued. We are becoming used to seeing almost back-to-back re-brands of certain organisations in attempts to win back favor from alienated audiences. In these cases often it is the human centric values at the heart of the brand that have become lost, often in favour of profit it seems.

Businesses and brands require constant attention to make sure they stay on the right track. Staying in tune with your audience, what matters to them, how they are thinking, is absolutely essential. Without that you can simply cease to be relevant or worse.

Rebuilding trust

I’m sure there is a book about all of this but I just wanted to outline in simple terms what we mean when we talk about Human Brands’. People are at the centre of Graphical House, our own team of course, but also our clients and their audiences. Yes a brand needs to be profitable to survive but that’s not a bad thing, not something to be ashamed of, if you do it right. And yes there sometimes needs to be a nod to the bots, just to make sure things get seen, after all the bots are just a tool like any other. But of course a tool in the wrong hands can do damage.

For us doing it right means working with people and making sure that the brand properly represents their motivations and aspirations, needs and desires. That it is honest and open and that we find its uniqueness in order to help it succeed.

Presenting all of this to the audience in a way that really resonates, has value and feels worthwhile enough to engage with and maybe even trust.

— Scooby, for Mount Stuart, by Mark Huskisson.