Lippincott, a brand strategy and design firm, and Hill Holliday, a full-service advertising and marketing agency, released “Welcome to the Human Era,” a report that examines the fundamental decline of consumer trust and the subsequent shift in how brands need to act to garner lasting connections with their customers. The report highlights key characteristics of Human Era brands and defines the behaviors of companies both big and small that are able to break through in this new environment. The full report can be accessed here.
The report asserts that brand-building today can no longer be led by messaging and advertising alone, but rather requires both “story” and “experience” to work together to drive brand favorability. Key characteristics among Human Era brand leaders are that they: have a deep cultural trait of customer empathy; talk and act like people; are open, real, and even flawed; aren’t boring; care intensely about the little things; and empower individuals to be the brand.
“Making an authentic connection today is a tall order, and few brands actually get beyond the messaging,” says John Marshall, senior partner and global director of strategy for Lippincott. “But when studying the leaders, what’s clear is that their success came from so much more than their ads and social media strategy; it came from their culture, their decision-making approaches, their employee behaviors, and often the little things that often don't even cost that much."
“The Human Era is about a fundamental societal shift based on the search for trust,” adds Graham Ritchie, EVP and chief strategy officer for Hill Holliday. “Now is the time for companies, brands, and indeed our industry to really understand this cultural shift in order to adapt and thrive or risk a decline in relevance and value.”
To learn more about which companies really stand out, Lippincott analyzed its BrandView database of more than 1,000 global brands. It determined the Human Era Index from an equal weighting of the three character traits of authenticity, empathy, and vitality. The composite score is calculated on a range of 1–10, with a high of 9.4 and a low of 1.0. Public companies on the leadership list outdistanced the Dow by an average of 11 percent per year over the last four years.
The top brands by industry in the Human Era Index are:
1. Financial Services: USAA is the most human brand rated across all industries with a score of 9.4. Customer understanding and empathy runs deep in the company’s core, and boasts a 98 percent customer-retention rate. Umpqua Bank, based in Portland, is rated the top commercial bank and treats itself more like a retailer than a financial services company, creating a culture that encourages its employees to be in charge of their actions but to also admit mistakes and learn from them.
2. Restaurants: In-N-Out Burger, with a score of 8.3, has defied fast-food conventions to provide customers with trusted quality since 1949, and scores almost twice as high as McDonald’s or Burger King on the Human Index. Ranking second, Chick-fil-A places an emphasis on quality and integrity as a family-run business that still remains closed on Sundays.
3.Media and Entertainment: Disney’s emotive stories and attention to detail make it the leader in media and entertainment with a score of 7.9. Close behind surprisingly is Netflix, showing us that being a more human brand can be about making and admitting mistakes.
4. Consumer Electronics: Apple leads the consumer electronics industry with a score of 7.8. It continues to show its ability to understand consumers unspoken needs and connect to us in simple and meaningful ways.
5. Retail: Amazon.com, scoring 7.5, sets the standard for understanding how shoppers want to be treated, even when it is not a face-to-face interaction.
6.Grocery: Scoring a 7.0, Wegman’s is known for its broad assortment and knowledgeable and friendly employees. At this family-run grocer, 20 percent of its 40,000 employees are related. Coming in second in retail is Nordstrom, which consistently offers outstanding customer service along with its famous return policy.
7. Airlines: Virgin America and Southwest tied as leaders both with a score of 6.9. While the airline industry has the lowest average scores, both companies prove it is possible to be human in the air. Virgin America focuses on a differentiated customer experience infused with personality and Southwest makes flying fun, while sticking to “bags fly free” policy.
“We believe that being a Human Era company is more than a strategic option; it is a new and essential way of approaching business in our connected age,” Marshall says.