Brands for Humans Is a Movement with Purpose

Dizzying changes in customer behavior are pushing brands beyond B2C or B2B, but what is B4H?

By Chris Warren

Harry Campbell/

Throughout his 30-plus years in marketing, Dean Aragón has been as much a student of his trade as he is a practitioner. After a long run at Unilever, where he ended his tenure as a global brand VP for haircare in 2014, and in his current role as the CEO and vice chairman of Shell Brands International AG, Aragón has spent plenty of time pondering how some brands establish deep, lasting bonds with customers while other companies stay stuck in purely transactional relationships.

It's a complicated question, and one that often focuses on how to leverage insights gathered through data analytics in order to personalize marketing and advertising.

While smart use of data is crucial, Aragón believes that there is too much big data and not enough 'deep' data. "We look at customers through the lens of their involvement with our brands and products, like they are motorists or buyers of shampoo, 24/7," Aragón says. "We dehumanize people and pretend that we understand the entirety of their humanity through their connection with our brands, which is not true."

Instead, Aragón argues that brands that are able to forge valuable and enduring relationships with their customers are ones that can fully humanize their brand persona.

What humanizes a brand persona? For starters, it's engendering a brand with a personality, character traits, and, perhaps most important, a belief and values system that extends well beyond a company's financial self-interest. "Nothing is more human than purpose," Aragón says.


How Brands Reimagine Purpose

Many companies have been wrestling with brand purpose, perhaps even more so amid the pandemic.

But even before the outbreak, some common themes surrounding purpose began to coalesce. In 2019, as part of an update of the Business Roundtable's Principles of Corporate Governance, 181 CEOs formally endorsed the concept of "stakeholder capitalism," the idea that companies not only deliver value to customers and shareholders but also take care of the welfare of their employees, their suppliers, and the communities where they operate.

"Listening is the most important tool in a brand's toolbox when the goal is showing up authentically for the audience."
— Damian Benders, general manager, B Code Media at H Code

More recently, JP Morgan chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon used his 66-page letter to the company's shareholders as a springboard for an in-depth discussion of the many challenges facing the U.S. — including racial unrest, income inequality, and climate change — and the responsibility and genuine actions the company is taking in tackling these deep-seated problems.

The work of marketers, regardless of the sector in which they operate, is directly tied to these evolving ideas about the responsibilities and purpose of corporations. The industry is taking note.

In late 2020, over 350 CMOs ratified the ANA's Brands for Humans (B4H) platform, which is aimed at clarifying the role of marketers in achieving the promise of stakeholder capitalism.

In many respects, B4H is best understood in terms of how it both resembles and differs from traditional B2B and B2C marketing. While those two disciplines have increasingly started to borrow from one another, B4H puts purpose at the core of marketers' activities.

"[The] marketing function has a responsibility to help the entire corporation relentlessly act in a human centric way — creating real value to identify and address human needs in innovative ways with the people it serves," says the mandate ratified by the ANA's Global CMO Growth Council.


Making B4H Actionable

To Camille Nicita, president and CEO of Gongos, a Michigan-based customer centricity consulting agency whose clients include Coca-Cola, General Motors, and Kellogg's, adopting a B4H approach is about survival. "Stakeholder capitalism and B4H is the way of the future," she says. "Marketing that does not connect with customers authentically will reduce brand resonance and stifle growth."

Of course, it's one thing to understand that corporate business models and activities must be directed toward serving the needs of customers and noncustomers alike. It's quite another to integrate this ethos into brand-building and the other responsibilities for marketers.

To do that, Nicita at Gongos says online communities can facilitate valuable dialogue, and help marketers look at customers as humans.

For any chance of success, CEOs and boards of directors have to be clear that marketing and the corporation as a whole serve more than just shareholders.

"The entire organization has to be aligned with the benefits and tradeoffs of committing to adding social, environmental, and community goals to the mission alongside revenue," says Damian Benders, general manager, B Code Media at H Code, a digital media company that specializes in multicultural marketing and advertising.

"Communication is just one piece of the puzzle," Benders says. "Brands for humans should be a reminder that corporate actions — donations, advocacy, support — are part of the tools you have to demonstrate what the company values."

Ultimately, aligning marketing with a company's efforts to better serve people means listening and understanding what people care about and the challenges they seek to address. "Listening is the most important tool in a brand's toolbox when the goal is showing up authentically for the audience," Benders says.

"These virtual communities enable and empower brands and customers to walk hand-in-hand on the customer journey," Nicita says. "They also have the ability to instill positive brand affinity, positioning organizations as purpose-driven, caring connectors that give people a voice and find a way forward together."

Increased use of primary research and data to better understand customers' attitudes, perceptions, and preferences will be key, Nicita says, adding that marketers need to get to the "why behind the data." Human-centered design must also take on a more prominent role in everything companies do, including marketing.

"Human-centered design is rooted in the notion of empathy," Nicita says. "It puts human understanding at the forefront of problem-solving and innovation and reinserts the end user's voice in all steps of the problem-solving process. Human-centered design can be applied throughout the entire product and service development process, from the fuzzy front end of problem definition, all the way through brand development, product positioning, and marketplace launch."


New Measuring Sticks

CMOs eager to embrace B4H will need a fresh way (or at least additional ways) to measure its success. To Nicita, metrics such as net promoter scores (NPS) and customer satisfaction measure things the business cares about, not customers. Instead, she argues for the use of customer performance indicators, or CPIs.

"Customers can utilize customer performance indicators, which are metrics that measure outcomes valued by customers," Nicita says. These outcomes can include saving time or money, but also can be human-centric measures of helping or connecting with others and lowering risk and/or anxiety.

However brands choose to operationalize B4H, the onus is on marketers to provide clarity to their audiences and the public about a corporation's values and beliefs and how they are meaningfully acting on those convictions.

"Brands are viewed as social and political players and customer expectations are evolving in real time in response," Benders says. "The overwhelming majority of multicultural consumers report that they are unlikely to purchase brands that do not share their values. Demand is only going to increase for brands to state their positions, be transparent about their actions, and to prove their commitment with dollars."



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