Jim Antonopoulos, executive creative director of TANK Branding examines the benefits of brands being people-focused and how creativity can be used to connect with consumers in an engaging way.

Understanding people, our instincts and what drives us as human beings, is at the heart of building brands that have meaning within our lives.

If our very human instinct is based on being drawn to people we trust, and people with whom we share common values and beliefs – we must remind ourselves of this simple truth when building brands.

When a brand, be it an organisation, service or even a country, truly connects with us in a meaningful way, it makes us feel something positive. That brand has a far greater chance of building long term loyalty, than those brands that don’t put people at the heart of their identities.

Without a clear message that has meaning, we switch off.

In an age where information is at our beck and call, and where content, trends, memes and ideas fly past us at the speed of light, the simplicity of a brand’s message has never been more necessary.

Today and tomorrow

The Cluetrain Manifesto spouted the notion of consumer interaction, communities and a world where we would have a deeper connection with each other and the brands we believe in. It spoke of a conversation that was just beginning and inter-related networks that would change both the inside and outside of our businesses.

Naomi Klein’s No Logo forced us to investigate the full integrity of the brands we dealt with every day and hold them accountable in a way we never did before.

Today we are at a stage in our evolution as consumers, where we are only just beginning to learn to adjust to an amazing onslaught of messages. And we are slowly honing the ability to sift through these messages and find the brands that we genuinely connect with – the brands that we can wear with pride and use to build, or add to, our own identities.

Ethnographer Simon Sinek states that ‘every decision we make in our lives is our way of saying something about who we are and what we believe in – this is the same for an individual as it is for an organisation’.

Product brands, service brands, charity brands, association brands and country brands, all should be looking to connect with people in meaningful ways. To work towards establishing a strong people-focussed ethos internally and hold a world view and values that will attract those that uphold the same set of principles.

The consumer of today can see through the smoke and mirrors of a new coat of paint, a pun, double-entendre, a lie. They dig deeper and wider; their detection abilities are honed and they seek through wallpaper brands, for something more.

The consumers of today seek brands that they can believe in, and brands that uphold the same values and ethos as they do.

There is no longer any room for falsities. Aren’t we all tired of looking at wallpaper brands replete with shallow aesthetics, gimmicks and false promises?

If we are going to add meaning, and value for customers, we must begin to focus on the people at the heart of our organisations and ensure that we are building a value system that is true to our own identities as individuals. Because when it isn’t, we fail as businesses and as organisational cultures in the broader context.

We must focus on the people who make brands tick – the customers and our employees – and we must create messages that are true symbols of what we stand for. Our beliefs must be at the heart of what we say and do. bThis will be intrinsic in the brands that live to see tomorrow.

What happens when you focus on people?

It’s easy to think that what we do is all about us. It’s not. It’s about the people who choose to buy into the brand, identify with it, are employed by it, or invest in it.

It’s not about us, it’s about them.

We need to find new ways of finding and using simple human truths and we need to carefully observe and become inquisitive enough to ask profoundly simple questions. Because people’s behaviours and values both directly influence, and are influenced by the identities of the brands they associate with.

A funny thing happens when we become more curious about people in brand communications. We begin to ask questions and our behaviour changes to something that can only be described as that of a cultural ethnographer.

Questions like:

What are they thinking? How are they interacting? What are their stories, their dreams? What makes them angry? Where’s the concern? What are they passionate about? Why?

We must also look internally.

The business world must understand that its number one audience is made up of the people who deliver the service, interact with customers, build products, create policy, develop content and those that choose to walk into work every single day – its employees. These are the people who live and breathe the brand, and become the embodiment of everything it stands for; creating and evolving its identity every day.

When an organisation taps into the values of its people and truly understands its customers and their values, it begins to create a brand identity that has depth, clarity and meaning.

A simpler way of doing things

When we embarked on a branding program for The AFL Players’ Association we quickly learnt that we had to develop a common set of values that were true within the organisation. Values that were at the heart of why people came to work every day, why they chose this profession and why they worked tirelessly each day to ensure that Australia’s elite footballers were supported by an organisation that meant something in their lives.

We were asked to create a value system, a voice, a broad visual language and a brand strategy that focused on the organisation’s business moving towards a stronger commercial and representative stance in the football world.

At the heart of this strategy was the simple truth that this organisation was started by a group of AFL players for the benefit of all players; and even more so, that these men were just normal men who played a game.

The AFL Players is an organisation that supports AFL footballers, who, apart from being some of Australia’s most elite athletes, are also fathers, brothers, sons, partners and friends. We looked beyond the notion of the football club to celebrate this very fact.

We were able to build the foundation of a brand with this simple human truth and focus the organisation and give a voice to the people that mattered most – the players.

The organisation is now known as The AFL Players because of this single-minded idea – a simple focus that means something profound to the organisation and the audience.

Better / Next

As marketers and decision makers in business we must take on the attributes of ethnographers and anthropologists – we must understand the impact our decisions have on the different cultures and communities we touch, as well as the people whom we have within our businesses.

We must begin to understand that at the heart of a remarkable brand identity, ticks something not very different to a human identity – a common set of values and beliefs.

We must learn to collaborate, experiment, fail, talk, observe, involve, interact and explore the world we live in – and more importantly, the people and the customers we are creating messages for.

We must learn new ways of doing things and embrace both creativity and failure in the pursuit of greater ideas.

Through our work we must learn to discover the deeper communication problems faced by our clients, seek simple human insights from our research and develop strategy that is clear and meaningful – not filled with fluff for the sake of it.

We must also ensure our ideas are both accountable and measurable and account for the entire human experience around the brands we create.

When we focus on deeper connections with people, that are true and simple, we will see a greater return in customer loyalty and client relationships that move beyond the transactional, and into a far stronger place. It will also provide a greater competitive advantage because we now own something far more substantial.

We need to ask ourselves every day, in the work that we do as creatives, marketers and entrepreneurs – how can we give the people at the heart of our brands something to believe in?