InsightsPOSTED April 9, 2018

Technology is the future, but communications must remain human

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It’s been a favourite mantra of the Silicon Valley and entrepreneurs globally that mistakes should be embraced and that failure leads to new epiphanies. I could not agree more. Anticipating mistakes and owning them when they happen not only delivers potent operational lessons, it’s a powerful way to inoculate brand reputation.

Why? Because tripping-up is human nature and we’re more forgiving of those who have the guts and humility to admit their flaws than those who sweep it under the carpet.

And based on the volume of print and content devoted to the power of failure in the last few years, you’d think every brand was a devotee, making it part of their DNA. Apparently not…not even close.

As we’ve all witnessed recently with the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica breech or Uber’s delay in revealing the hacking of the personal information of some 50 million customers, and the list goes on, when mistakes and failure get exposed, leading brands hit the bunkers.

Worse still, they seemed surprised and entirely caught off guard by the failures when in fact these issues seemed inevitable, and in the case of Facebook, many saw it coming well before, during and after the 2016 US election.

So, about that failure thing and capitalizing on mistakes? It’s so blatantly logical to do it as it’s the epitome of being real, human or “authentic,” yet it’s profoundly hard. It takes a lot of forethought and courage. However, with increasingly limited privacy, and indeed confidentiality, brands and organizations must get their heads around it.

Let’s face it, the risks are only getting more complex and we can assume that every brand will face a difficult reckoning, if not several. We also know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that those brands that own the issue right out of the gate, just like we would expect of an individual, have much higher odds of sustaining their reputations (and businesses) than those that don’t.

Listen, when Facebook ironically encourages companies and products to solicit “likes,” then the reciprocal expectation is to behave more human, more like a person. I’ve talked about the importance of humanizing brands for several years now and also contributed to an Ira Basen documentary on CBC Radio The Sunday Edition, A Brand New World, in 2014.

As we look to the future of communications 2020 and beyond, hopefully we’ll see a doubling down of the human touch and the essence of being more “authentic.”

How can we humanize our communications?

  • Show and articulate humility: We logically acknowledge that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes. The same goes for brands. It’s the companies that give as much attention into recognizing their areas for improvement as much as their successes that earn our respect. And when mistakes happen, the most reputable brands quickly admit it and accept the consequences. It’s such a logical and effective approach, yet surprisingly rare.
  • Be transparent: Within reason (in the context of competitive, regulatory and legal realities) brands should be forthcoming about their products and services, quality control practices and standards, ethical principles, pricing, ingredients, warranties and so on. Also, as a non-profit, charity or publicly traded company, clearly disclose detailed financials, going ideally above and beyond the bare minimum regulatory requirements.
  • Listen: It’s no coincidence that within brands, the top performing leaders, salespeople and employees generally are all recognized as good listeners. Guess what? The same goes for a brand. Listening with the intent to learn is not only a show of humility, but a source of powerful intelligence to keep your business and reputation on the up-and-up both from within your company and with customers/stakeholders.
  • Be consistent: I find that demonstrating authenticity is far too often a convenience rather than a leading principle and value. We’ll be authentic some of the time ― when it suits us — just not all of time. We see the same kind of inconsistency with transparency. It too is summoned and dropped when convenient. But there are tough consequences. As brands play fast and loose with the principles of authenticity, so too will employees and customers with their brand loyalty.

Given the influence of social media and the distortions coming from fake news, brand authenticity and communicating with a “human” voice are now more important than ever.

Yes, technology will influence the future of communications and marketing – without a doubt. But, it will be the brands that marry innovation with humanized traits and principles that will lead.

Kenneth Evans is managing partner at APEX Public Relations and ruckus Digital, as well as a reputation management and media training specialist. Ken can be reached at kevans@apexpr.com.