After nearly two decades in advertising, I've gotten to know a lot of brands. And from that, I've discovered a few universal truths, one of them being this: The brands I love - that everyone seems to love - all have one thing in common: Humanity.
The best brands don't behave like businesses, they behave like people. They have personalities, passions and a purpose to their existence that goes beyond making a buck.
And because of that, people can relate to them beyond a transactional level. An emotional connection is created. And if it goes deep enough, then just like happens with people, you kind of can't help falling in love with them. These brands become a part of our lives. When we wear their labels, we like what it says about us. We gladly put our shared values on display for the world to see.
Humanity in a brand is a wonderful thing. It inspires passion in the people who work for the brand and those who buy from the brand. Whether these human traits are infused by a founder at the start of a company or created via marketing after the fact, if authentic and lived on every level, they are equally effective.
Apple is a great example of a brand whose humanity was informed by its founder. Founded by a creative oddball and, in turn, embraced the creative oddball. (Remember Here's To The Crazy Ones?) Steve Jobs may have ended up with a gold-plated version of the traditional American dream, but he sure didn't follow the traditional path to get there. He looked at the well-carved path of a college education and said no. He followed a unique way. And in turn, created technology to let others follow their imagination. Imagination. Individuality. The freedom to pursue your dreams, your way. It's as human as it gets.
For a more modern, marketing-induced human brand, let's look at Old Spice. As a girl, I can tell you, very few of us actually enjoy the smell, but who among us didn't fall in love with that brand when it launched The Old Spice guy? Why did we love this brand, despite the fact that we didn't necessarily love the product? Because they hooked us with two of the most magnetic human traits out there: Charm and humor. Suddenly, Old Spice was funny. And girls love guys who can make them laugh.
Laughter - one of the most basic and beloved human behaviors. Embracing individuality - one of the most basic and sought after human desires. Both brand gold.
When brands behave like humans, they succeed. So, if turnabout really is fair play, might it be true that humans could better succeed by behaving more like brands?
It makes sense if you think about it. What is a brand, other than an individualized expression of a business? So why can't the same principle be applied to the individual expression of a life? Take a look at what might happen if you applied good solid brand behavior to the business of living.
Know What You Have To Offer: When it comes to human beings, there is no such thing as a parody product. We are, each one of us, a limited edition. And as such, have something unique to offer. Look beyond your diplomas and your resumes and find something that feels uniquely yours. It's not just about what you do but how you do it. There are millions of doctors out there who had the exact same training, but they each have the opportunity to create a bedside manner that allows them to offer their services in a totally unique way.
Declare Your Worth. Brands are not shy about letting people pay them. And the ones who know - really know - they have something of value to offer, don't barter or haggle. Have you ever heard of Apple slashing prices? Do not devalue yourself. Once you determine what you can offer, get clear on what it's worth and charge that. Feel good when people are willing to pay you and don't sweat it when they aren't. Always be willing to receive payment, opportunity and support. You are worth it.
Stand For Something: The best brands don't just sell something, they stand for something. In other words, they are driven by purpose beyond making money. And this usually centers around the role they can play in the lives of others. How can you use what you do and what you love to bring meaning into your life and the lives of others? When how you spend your days takes on personal meaning for you, passion is set on fire. And you have to try pretty hard to be unhappy when you have passion and purpose in your life.
Market Yourself. If you know what you have to offer, and how it can be of value to others, why ever would you shy away from getting out there and letting people know about you? Why would you hide your gifts from those they could help? Marketing does not have to be schmarmy or obnoxious. It can be genuine and create meaningful conversations and connections. Don't hold back from putting yourself out there.
Manage Your Resources: A brand can do everything else right, but if it's mismanaged, it will never succeed. People, time, energy and money. Those are the most precious resources of every human brand. And in that order. When it's all said and done, and the time has come to turn off the lights on this life, it is the people we loved that will matter the most. Developing the skills to manage our time, energy and finances in a way that allows us to build equity in our personal relationships will bring success in the truest sense of the word.
If you ask me, these key brand principles belong in our personal world every bit as much as the professional sector. After all, we were, each one of us, born the CEO of our own lives.