Highlighting the Humanity of a Brand with R/GA

          Texas AMA. Oh, what a wild month it has been. Today marks 30 days since the last day of in-person classes at the University of Texas at Austin, leaving countless students in a unique space in time never experienced before. Whether you’re still in the process of trying to find a rhythm of being a full-time student while being in an environment you’ve perhaps never taken college courses in before or even if you’re loving watching class from the comfort of your bed but perhaps feeling the social distancing and isolation– it is clear now more than ever that the whole world is experiencing adversity. Perhaps it is felt and experienced and lived in different ways, but the reality is that humanity as a whole is impacted by this pandemic, and the world is brought together in the fact that we are all reaching for a glimpse of the goodness of humanity each and every day.

          In light of our current reality, our most recent speaker event, in which R/GA’s Senior Strategist Amber Kazalbash spoke on the importance of the humanity of a brand. Throughout our time, Kazalbash discussed the potential power brands have in harnessing the state of our world today in a way that empowers and lifts up consumers while simultaneously benefiting your business. 

          Kazalbash began with the million-dollar question: how human can a brand be? Well, first we must look at the root concept behind that question: what makes us human? Kazalbash broke it down in four simple steps:

The Four Things That Make Us Human:

  1. Creativity :
    1. Humans have always had an imaginative skill-set that continuously leads to renewed creativity, innovation, and a curious spirit for more in this world.
  2. Consciousness :
    1. Here, we’re looking at intuition! This unique aspect of humans grounds us as individual creatures, and continuously brings us back to a state of awareness: self-awareness and awareness of the environments we are living in, both on a local and large scale.
  3. Choice :
    1. The idea of having choices reigns supreme over all of time– as humans, we love freedom, and we thrive in having the individual power to make our own decisions.
  4. Connection :
    1. From the beginning of time, humans were made and will always be made for connection & community. This, perhaps, is the most relevant and deeply-felt aspect of our humanity in this time of collective uncertainty. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

“At the end of the day, people are the ones who have the permission to give brands the space to be themselves.” – Amber Kazalbash

          Now that we know what makes us human, from here we have to determine what makes a brand? First, Kazalbash highlighted the difference between a “company” and a “brand”– a truly crucial distinction. While she describes a company as an entity and structure, it is the brand that is the soul of the company. It is within the brand that we see this intangible factor of personality. And as Kazalbash eloquently declared, “At the end of the day, people are the ones who have the permission to give brands the space to be themselves.”

          So then, if we know what makes us human and we know what makes a brand, where do we go from here? As Kazalbash emphasized, context is everything. Brands must understand that in this season of the world as a whole experiencing the global coronavirus pandemic, there is rising fear and worry, people are exercising extra caution, and among these pressures, people in all walks of life are being led to overexertion. Under these circumstances, 81% of marketers say they are postponing planned campaigns as a result of COVID-19. Furthermore, 79% of marketers are creating new messages that respond directly to the impact of the crisis, with half already now running. Now– it is imperative for us to understand what kinds of messages are the most effective during this time. While simply re-stating the reality of the situation is not helpful to consumers, Kazalbash urges brands to speak to the greater opportunity: tapping into the Four C’s that make us human and leaning into this opportunity to work towards impacting consumers in a truly meaningful way. With this in mind, Kazalbash gave us a number of pointers she believes brands should employ during this time:

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          From her unique perspective as a Senior Strategist at R/GA, still working with clients who are trying to navigate what this pandemic means for their brand, Kazalbash gives valuable insight into how she is handling and guiding her clients to strengthen the humanity of their brand, saying “Our rightful role is to act on the permission consumers give us. It isn’t about compelling marketing or advertising, it’s about how companies behave to serve [new] human needs.” Statistics show that 62% of people believe the US will not endure this crisis without brands playing an active role, while 70+% believe that brands that utilize this time to serve their own profit rather than serving human needs (ie. tools & resources, connection & togetherness, hope & joy, and distraction & destressing) will lose trust. 

“Our rightful role is to act on the permission consumers give us. It isn’t about compelling marketing or advertising, it’s about how companies behave to serve [new] human needs.” – Amber Kazalbash

          Finally, while Kazalbash commended a magnitude of brands pushing out relevant marketing materials– such as Spotify encouraging the creation of Work-From-Home playlists, serving their audience while pushing their bottom-line of gaining new users, she drove home the idea that brands can stay silent during this time. In the case of certain brands, they simply don’t have a stake in the current situation in a context that would lead them to say something major to speak to the current human needs. In this case, Kazalbash says that as long as they’re still effectively and sensitively serving their customers, it is okay if they remain in “the background.”

          The question remains: what can we, as students, do during this time? Kazalbash left us with a number of suggestions as seen below:

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          Texas AMA is wishing you health, safety, and well-being as we navigate this time together, and we hope this recap on Kazalbash’s discussion on the humanity of a brand has served as an encouragement that even in times like these, we can be reminded of the power of meaningful marketing.

 

BY HANNAH DAVID

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