Adding Humanity To Your Brand


Most normal (whatever that means) human beings don’t usually fall in love with inanimate objects. We fall in love with human beings, with all of their emotions and imperfections and insecurities.

We connect with great songs expose those deeply personal emotions, things you’d be reluctant to even tell your closest friends.

You can feel both the immense joys and dark fears of fatherhood in “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon.

Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” takes you inside the twisted mind of a troubled teen about to exact revenge on those who bullied him.

“Check It Out” by John Mellencamp laments the arrival of mid-life, when you have every material thing you want but “you can’t tell your best buddy that you love him“.

It takes real courage to write and sing stuff like that, to expose and share your fears, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities… the same ones all of us have but are afraid to acknowledge. Sure, we act like we’re perfect, but we’re all wonderfully imperfect, just like Seth Godin’s cool new book title… “We Are All Weird”.

Brands that expose some of those same imperfections are the ones who take that leap from inanimate object to human qualities.

The brilliant Chrysler “Imported From Detroit” campaign did that, acknowledging that American automakers had let quality slide and vowing to make owning an American car a thing of pride once again. It recognized what we were already thinking about American manufacturers and Detroit itself instead of trying to sell us something we didn’t believe. Truth is a very human trait.

The concept of making inanimate objects human isn’t new. Leonardo Da Vinci intentionally blurred the lines on his paintings, giving the Mona Lisa a sense of human imperfection and motion.

What is your brand doing to add human qualities to your business?

Are you being honest and real in your marketing? Do you sometimes expose flaws or admit obvious realities?

Does your advertising speak to people in real worlds, or cliches and ad-speak?

Do you speak with your customers, taking the opportunity to turn unsatisfied customers into lifelong fiends of your brand?

If you aren’t being human, you shouldn’t expect human beings to fall in love with you anytime soon.


Buckley's, Chrysler, Davinci, Foster The People, John Lennon, John Mellencamp 146 Comments

The Power of What You Leave Out

One of rock’s greatest albums.  Nothing written on the front of it.  No band name.  No album name.

Would Zeppelin IV have been a bigger success if they would have written “Led Zeppelin” across the front?  Not likely.

One of the very cool aspects of this classic album is the mystery behind the strange cover.

How about this album?

It didn’t have a name either.

Would it have been bigger if they would have called it “A Doll’s House” as originally planned?  Nope.  Part of the mystique of  “the white album” is that it wasn’t called officially ”the white album”.  It wasn’t called anything at all.

The lack of anything on the front, other than the text “The BEATLES” and a serial number, is part of the legacy of the album.

The Beatles and Led Zeppelin tapped into the power of the incomplete.
Leondardo Davinci called it “sfumato“, which loosely translated means “smoky”.  He made the lines on the Mona Lisa’s face intentionally smoky, blurred, and almost incomplete in order to engage the mind.
Michaelangleo called it “non-finito” or “unfinished”.  He left sculptures partially entombed in stone and intentionally left many things looking unfinished in order to capture your attention.
In-N-Out Burger calls it the “secret menu“.  Actually, they don’t.  Their customers do.  In-N-Out Burger only has four food items (besides drinks) on their menu.
Yet there are literally dozens of “secret” menu items you can order.  The menu never acknowledges them.  Their staff never talk about them.  Yet you can walk into any In-N-Out Burger and ask for “The Flying Dutchman” or a “3 By Meat, Animal Style” and you’ll get exactly what you asked for.
Part of the allure of In-N-Out Burger is the secret menu.  And thanks to the internet, the secret menu is hardly secret anymore.  In-N-Out has attempted to address that by denying a secret menu exists.  They offer an explanation here.
Why does this work?

The human mind hates loose ends.  We watch bad movies right to the end because we would rather put up with a crappy movie rather than deal with not knowing what happened.   When we see the Mona Lisa, we see a truly human face because our mind completes the picture beneath the smoky lines.  We are engaged.

What does your brand intentionally leave out?
Do your customers have a secret menu to order from?

Have you had the guts to release an album without your name on it?

Creating a little mystery around your brand will go a long way toward engaging the mind of your customers.
Davinci, In-N-Out Burger, Led Zeppelin, Michaelangelo, The Beatles 235 Comments