You hear it often: “I get my best ideas when I’m taking a shower” or “it came to me when I was driving home”. Many times you’re most creative when it’s not being forced. You could compare it to finding a nice painting for your home. If you go out and frantically search for it, you’ll probably not find it. Weeks later, shopping for a new chair you might stumble upon the best painting ever. The same goes for me. I get great ideas in the shower and often send them to my best friend — who happens to be my co-founder — as soon as I finish. However, our best idea to date came to us eating a 10-piece and a McChicken® in our hometown Rotterdam.
Brainstorming over a Fast Food lunch
It wasn’t uncommon for Jonathan and me to grab a quick lunch, discuss work, technology, the universe, and life in general. It had lead to great ideas before, especially when I was running a one-man business. We share a lot of the same interests and have complementary skills when it comes to working and doing business. This particular afternoon, we came to the subject of our jobs as Growth Hackers and how technology has a major impact on how we do our work. Talking about automation, gathering massive amounts of data, and how Artificial Intelligence is creating a major impact even though it’s still in its infancy.
As I remember, we shared one very specific feeling that didn’t sit right with us: “Why are so many organizations using, and especially misusing, data?”. In our line of work, we saw a massive increase in data being gathered. We also noticed the growth of automation in places we were used to having humans. Chatbots and Voicebots aggressively moving into Customer Service and automating entire conversations. We asked ourselves: “Shouldn’t companies use all this technology to actually become more human? In fact, not just companies but all organizations”.
The philosophy: the future of humans and technology in organizations
We had seen it within so many organizations already during our work. Brands cut costs on human interactions by replacing people with machines. Also, customers were hardly ever seen as flesh and blood human beings with emotions, needs, and wishes. Visitors of websites became mere data points that could be measured and optimized for maximum profit in the shortest possible term. People walking through the doors of a Brick and Mortar were seen as foot traffic that could be optimized for maximum conversion. We had worked with data and growth strategies for years now, so much that we too had been struck with analysis paralysis. Working 10 hours per day optimizing data points, a.k.a. figuring out how to squeeze every extra penny out of a person’s pocket. Is that was business had become all about?
“What if you would have a personal account manager at a big online retailer? Imagine that, as a consumer”.
We thought about what business should be like according to us. What if we let go of all this measuring and optimizing for a while? “Describe to me your ideal business” is what we challenged each other. “It should feel like a local store, like a butcher shop. Do you know what I mean? After a couple of visits the butcher greets you when you come in, already knows what you like. They take time to let you sample some products and ask about how last week’s steak was”. That’s the feeling you’d want to have with every company you do business with, right? “What if you would have a personal account manager at a big online retailer? Imagine that, as a consumer”. Jonathan always used to bring a small legal pad with a wooden cover whenever we would meet with a chance of talking business. We would call it the “wooden book”. He frantically started writing notes about how organizations could, and should, become more human.
I was moving a Chicken Nugget from left to right in its little purple and white box while Jonathan was writing. “Humanizing”, I said. That’s what we should call it and that’s what organizations, heck, that’s what ALL BRANDS should be doing. We threw a couple of terms back and forth. Humanizing Companies, Humanization…..we settled on Brand Humanizing. The reason for calling it “Brand” Humanizing and not “Company” Humanizing, is because everything and everyone is a brand. Not just companies, but organizations, municipalities, and every person within a brand. This way, we would include everything and everyone. “Brilliant, and it sounds amazing too” is what I said as I finished my drink.
The birth of Brand Humanizing
Once we both got back home, we created a shared document in the cloud and started writing down the notes we made earlier at McDonald’s. We elaborated on that “Butchershop” feeling and how the gathering of data should be a tool to get closer with individuals, never an end goal to squeeze pennies. This got us discussing technology and how it impacts the future of humans. “What role do humans have in the Brand Humanizing way of working?” Jonathan asked. I wasn’t quite sure at first. Maybe people can do jobs that have a bigger impact on the customer’s experience?
“So when you’re Brand Humanizing, you put technology and humans both in their respective strong suits”,
Jonathan threw another hypothesis at me. “What if brands would use technology not to analyze humans and replace them in the customer journey, but to help teams in redundant processes and free up their time? They could spend that time creating that “Butchershop” feeling we spoke about, building the brand rather than leaving it”. We decided to dive deeper into this and started by comparing humans to technology. Robots are great at doing repetitive tasks, never taking days off, and being optimized in their processes. Humans on the other hand are creative, have a sense of empathy, and are able to build strong relationships. Those are the ingredients for that “Butchershop” feeling, genuinely caring for your customers, staff, and suppliers. Caring should be the core of Brand Humanizing. “So when you’re Brand Humanizing, you put technology and humans both in their respective strong suits”, Jonathan said. That was the hook we needed!
The future role of humans
The role of humans would change soon anyway, we figured. You could already see it around you. Automated bookkeeping, self-scanning checkouts, and an abundance of Algorithms in countless online platforms. Automation would not just change the future, it was already changing today. This was something we felt should be a cornerstone of Brand Humanizing. From our shared working experience, we saw organizations rush to implement automation and replace humans with it, just to cut short-term costs. We saw it differently. If brands would implement automation in roles only where it would be a better fit than a human being, why not create a role for that person where he or she would contribute to the brand? This would be an investment in the short-term, but with a very big upside in the long term.
We personally saw it happen to clothing stores in our area. There no longer were young, friendly people working at the checkouts. Instead, the friendly men and women were gone and they now had checkout stations that would automatically bag, seal and charge your purchase. Super efficient, but the experience would be anything but personal. A huge opportunity would be in Brand Humanizing that store. Keeping the automatic checkout is fine, but essentially they removed a brand-building part in the chain. The friendly “did you find everything?” and “have a great weekend!” were now gone.
But what if you would actually add a new personal contact point in the store? Now that the checkout has been taken care of, having a stylist in-store would be a great way to add value and experience. Besides, if all your competitors can buy the same technology and inventory, what sets you apart from the rest? That’s right! Human Capital, personal interactions, and an increased customer experience. If you sell the same clothes at the same price, I don’t care which store I’ll visit. However, if you provide an experience with friendly and talented people, they will personally make sure I will return to you “Butchershop” many times over.
And this was only just the beginning!