Brand anthropomorphism isn’t something new. Marketers have been trying to humanise brands for decades, and digital marketers have been trying to do the same, but online, for just a little bit less than that.
We’ve spent so long focusing on the associated “win” of a humanised online brand, and we here in TDP-land are huge advocates for a humanised online brand … but that’s not to say we don’t fully appreciate that there are associated “losses” when you “win” at humanising your brand online.
On today’s blog, we’d like to invite you all to consider what might actually not feel like a “win” when you have – in fact – “succeeded” at brand anthropomorphism.
It can all [seriously] backfire.
Because y’see, sure, with a humanised brand? … comes the fostering of really strong connections between brand/consumer, and any marketer on any Instagram page or podcast will be able to tell you there are a lot of associated wins [memorability, relatability, sales conversions just to name a few of the seriously obvious things] when a brand drives that strong connection between brand/consumer via humanisation.
What a lot of people don’t focus on, though? With a stronger connection comes a bigger risk of backfire, and it’s usually something within the space of betrayal, i.e when there is a strong connection, consumers start to consider particular brands to be their friend[s] and so if there is a subsequent failure by a particular brand? … it can feel personal.
A big example of this would be Ban.do, and the mass exodus/cancellation that ensued when we all [devastatingly] learnt that its Founder [and a lot of people’s favourite “girl boss”, myself included], Jen Gotch wasn’t just casually racist … but overtly so.
I still haven’t been able to refollow this particular brand, despite Jen’s immediate departure and Ban.do’s obvious efforts to do so much better in that space. Just like the above mentioned betrayal feeling personal? … this was very-much-so the case for me.
Smaller examples of brand “betrayal” are right in my very own backyard via our own incredibly humanised online brand [The Digital Picnic], and the subsequent weekly DMs we receive that I’m not always personally able to keep up with.
I try to sit down on a Sunday evening and personally reply to everyone [actually, I really enjoy it] … but it’s a once-per-week thing, and sometimes? Sunday’ll roll around and someone’ll be like, “kinda disappointed you didn’t get back to me” before I’ve had a chance to respond.
I don’t lose too much sleep over it, tbh. I’m a small business owner with a huge need for boundaries, and especially because mine is a really humanised brand where [rather beautifully] the large majority of our 70,000+ followers consider themselves to be a friend of ours. And they are. But GD they feel “betrayed” when we don’t always respond in a timely manner, ha!
This is a beautiful segue into the next brand anthropomorphosis backfire: when consumers consider themselves to be friends? Boundaries can feel harder.
How many adults describe hitting their late 30’s/early 40’s, or even their 50’s … and then finally begin to understand how important boundaries are?! Maybe that’s even you?
… it’s the same for business owners, tbh. We hit the 3rd/4th/5th year in, and we finally figure out how important it is to have boundaries as a business owner, and stick to them.
We have a seriously humanised online presence across all of the social media platforms TDP concentrates its efforts on, but that also means some seriously human responses [which I welcome, but also had to do some big work on to ensure that I wasn’t reaching every-single-Friday utterly depleted].
Examples of this have been DMs that are novel-length in size, and sent without a trigger warning at the top … but then go on to describe in great detail their workplace bullying experience, or their child’s school bullying experience, or their sexual assault as a child, or perhaps just a whopping big DM detailing an almost whole life story in order to be able to ask if we think they’re Autistic or not [just to name a few of the key themes we’re sent via DM].
When I’ve personally shared anything relating to workplace bullying, for example? I’ve always included a trigger warning [because I know how my heart pounds reliving my experience, and I also know how my heart pounds learning about someone else’s], but when we’re sent DMs like some of the above? … there is almost never a trigger warning, which means I get 1-2 sentences in and I sometimes stop reading [not because I don’t care, but because I’m about to deliver a strategy presentation to a client or clients, or I’m about to run an internal meeting etc. and it’s 10am on a Wednesday as an example].
Sometimes I’ll come back to that DM, and other times? … I don’t have the energy [this has especially been the case in 2020/2021 due to the pandemic sapping me of all of my energy].
A humanised brand is an incredibly beautiful thing, but one thing it definitely also needs? Boundaries, hun.
With brand anthropomorphism, comes a brand taking on its own [human-like] identity.
… and some people won’t like that.
For all o’ the marketers telling you if you don’t humanise your brand by 2022, it’ll be left behind? We can safely say there are many people who prefer to pursue their own self-identity via non-anthropomorphised brands.
We see this with TDP, tbh.
An example might be the person choosing to do the digital marketing course with us, or via one of our fully accredited competitors … and they do sometimes land on thinking, “actually, I just want to finish a digital marketing course with xyz training provider who I’ll do the relevant study with > grab my certificate of graduation > add it to my LinkedIn profile, and call it a day” in favour of studying with TDP whose radical transparency is perhaps too much for them.
They don’t want to log into a course with us, knowing that their teacher [that’s me, Cherie] was a 1980’s foster care kid, or a late diagnosed Autistic person, or a Mum of two, or an Aquarian, or a workplace bullying survivor, or someone who spends rainy days saving snails from being stood on via footpaths etc.
And that’s genuinely ok.
An example of this has been recently when I posted a photo online of my husband and I asleep on a couch together, and I’d captioned it with something describing how utterly exhausting I’ve found the pandemic – and its impacts – on organisational leaders to be. After we posted that piece of content, we got an email [that was genuinely really kind in its nature, and via its subsequent feedback] that was cancelling a scheduled phone call with us re: our upcoming Social Media Marketing Accelerator program. This person listed their reasons as being entirely related to that post, i.e they didn’t want to know how tired I was because of the pandemic, and they instead wanted to ensure that I was rolling into this course feeling all 2022 fresh.
Spoiler alert? I am. I promise [lol]. I have a really long January holiday booked with my fam. now that Melbourne/Naarm is [finally] out of lockdown.
I respected their email, but I also said that this particular piece of content was important because it united other organisational leaders [many of whom follow us on socials for honest pieces of content exactly like that one].
We lost a customer, sure. Our radically transparent content had “backfired”. And that is absolutely the occasional “hit” you’ll take when you choose brand anthropomorphism.
So, what do you do then?
You do what feels true to you.
For me [and therefore we here at TDP], that’s radically transparent content thanks to my commitment [and passion for] humanised brands.
Mine is a neurodiverse brain that craves connection, and when I share? … I share to connect. Sometimes? Neurotypicals describe my Autistic sharing as “over”sharing. And I’m ok with that. I’m not here to set myself on fire in order to keep others warm, and I’m instead very-much-so here to be true to myself during this one life that I get to live. I’ve also long since let go of being held to very ableist neuronormative standards, because I spent an entire lifetime pre-Autism diagnosis doing just that … and living that inauthentically was hell on Earth, and just not true to me.
If being true to you is humanisation? Humanise.
If being true to you isn’t humanising your brand? Then don’t.
As I’ve outlined above, there are associated wins and losses with both options … but the biggest win? Well, it’s always doing something in life [or business] that feels incredible true for you.
For TDP? That’s an incredibly humanised online brand [at almost every touchpoint].
Want to learn how to build a brand strategy and digital growth strategy that feels absolutely true to you and your brand? Join us for our 12 month long Social Media Marketing Accelerator program kicking off on February 2022.
We’re not just digital marketing trainers, but practitioners … and we “practice” digital growth activities daily via having our hands “on the tools” via the range of different businesses we manage in an array of different industries.
We’d love to mentor you throughout all of 2022 as you learn to DIY your own digital strategy alongside us, industry leaders within the digital marketing space.
Spots are 75% sold, and you can find out more here.