Humanity in marketing: the strategic human sides of big brands

Five of Australia’s biggest brands revealed key insights into the role ‘humanity’ plays in their business strategies. Susi Banks reports from the Humanity in Marketing and Media Summit.

Speakers at the Humanity in Marketing and Media Summit in Sydney last week (18 September) agreed that one of the big changes wrought by being more in touch with their customers via social media was finding out that people didn’t want to be spoken to as consumers. They wanted to be spoken to as people.

Paul Connell, business team leader at Unilever Laundry and Homecare, said that the quote about social media that it, ‘didn’t really change our culture, it just revealed it,’ has made marketers realise people want to be spoken to as humans. “It forced us to look at things differently,” said Connell.

“I sell laundry products and I don’t expect people would spend 90% of their day talking about laundry powder, that would be silly”, said Connell. The journey he said that Unilever has been on is trying to understand what matters to people. “Before, we only looked at a tiny part of a consumer’s life.”

Connell said previously a focus group was people talking animated about laundry products to you for an hour because they were being paid to. He said that is no longer a method used by the company. “We’ll talk to people and ask them about their lives, their families, what matters to them what gets in the way of being a good mum, challenges in society and we will tell them something about our lives.

“And that’s where the magic happens. Dove revealed the pressure to be beautiful that women feel. And the Omo ‘dirt is good’ campaign came from the pressure parents feel to be perfect. They think that if their kids are seen in dirty clothes they will be judged,” said Connell.

Prioritising customers ahead of making money is what led ING Direct to buck the trend and not introduce a credit card, said CEO Vaughn Richtor.

Richtor spoke about how they were asked how ING Direct can be a real bank without a credit card. “We looked at how credit cards would serve our customers”, said Richtor. Given most people don’t pay off the full amount in the interest-free period, they wait until the end of the month and only pay the minimum, paying up to 25% more purchases: “Why would be bring in a product that hurts our customers? Why make money out of people who can’t afford it? That’s not our business, we want to help people get ahead,” he says.

Munib Karavdic, director of design and innovation at AMP Insurance, gave a talk about how AMP is redesigning insurance “outside-in”.

Karavdic says they spent a lot of time talking to people. “We went into peoples’ homes – and not just AMP customers.”

They didn’t talk about insurance, instead they talked about their lives. And they had at least one senior executive in each of the discussions. “We put a lot of effort into this. We wanted a very meaningful understanding of human beings,” said Karavdic.

“What we found to be the solution was not the insurance product, but how we could help people to have better lives.”

Karavdic said they went back over 60 or 70 years to look at how critical illness insurance started. And it was created by a surgeon, who found that after surgery people didn’t have a normal life. They couldn’t assimilate into society afterwards. Whether they were people who had surgery or the people left behind, when in the worst case scenario, the patient died. This surgeon introduced insurance so that people could buy some time in which to recover.

“We started thinking about how we can help people how to have a better life. We came up with the concept that insurance needs to be run by ‘caring’ people. What will happen if you die, what happens to your family, or if you are permanently disabled?” he said.

Karavdic said traditionally life insurance and associated events was considered “scary” and nobody wanted to talk about it. Customers didn’t want to talk about when they died or when their loved ones died. This is the type of thing they had to look at to find a solution.

“So we looked at changing the perception from something that was scary, into something that could actually protect you and help your lifestyle,” he said. 

Tyrone O’Neill, head of consumer marketing, joined Optus when the company was 20 years down the track from its inception. Optus launched as the first-ever competition to Telstra for Australia’s landline business. So saying ‘Yes’ as in the Optus long-running campaign was a great idea. But, says O’Neill, when there’s only one competitor things are pretty easy. 20 years later the business was completely different and the brand had lost its way.

O’Neill said telcos had become the least-trusted industry. Customers would come back from overseas and find they’d gotten bills in the thousands of dollars. Or when people had caps on their phone bills, instead of it costing the cap amount each month, it was going way over and costing them a lot more.

“The issue of trust came up around the hidden fees that customers didn’t know about. As a category it may not have been intentionally having a complicated pricing structure, but the fact was that most people didn’t understand the pricing. So we had a big job to do around that,” he said.

Some of the changes Optus implemented were the removal of excess fees, changing the way the company worked with people and simplifiying the pricing structure so customers could understand it.

O’Neill said the company’s leaders needed to become very open, vulnerable even.

David Scribner, CEO of Virgin Mobile Australia, says that what is really important to the company, “is to have something in our brand that means something to people”. He said that Virgin Mobile supports R U OK and OzHarvest and that the ‘barbecue conversation’ is something that is still really important. “When someone asks: ‘Who are you with,’ they say ‘I’m with Virgin Mobile because …’ and they go on to say what the company does to support Australian causes,” said Scribner.

He says it’s really easy to say you are ‘customer centric’, but it’s much harder to do. “We do a lot of work around what will the customer think about that?” He says they don’t want to fall into being referred to as “just another telco”.

Connell from Unilever said although big data is amazing for what it is, it can only help you scratch the surface. Through big data he said you might be able to find out where a girl you liked lived, even what TV she watched, what food she bought from the local takeaway, what chocolates she liked.

But, it could have been her housemates who did all those things, he pointed out. Even if you got it right she probably won’t be attracted to you just because of your ‘accurate stalking.’

His fear is that as we become so reliant on big data, “we will forget the human side of it, which is probably why 90% of us got into marketing in the first place”.


Image by Matthias Ripp (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

BY Susi Banks ON 30 September 2015