Humanisation was born to help tech startups make a human impact in a digital world. Our secret sauce is Human-Centered Marketing.

Here is a simple guide to help you build and scale a Human-Centric business and brand.

WHAT Is HUMAN-CENTERED MARKETING?

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An approach that puts human empathy and impact at the heart of Marketing.

The four stages of Human-Centered Marketing are to: 

 

  • 1) Walk in customers' shoes 
  • 2) Listen with empathy
  • 3) Make a human impact in a noisy digital world
  • 4) Grow together with customers, employees and stakeholders

Human-Centered Marketing helps brands walk in their customer's shoes and find their human voice as they Go-To-Market. The benefit for businesses is making a human impact in a noisy digital world. 

The startups we are working with are breaking boundaries whether it's building new categories or expanding the realms of Machine Learning, AI or Blockchain. A human approach becomes critical when you are creating new categories. It's easy to get lost in the tech and forget about the human benefit.  

Human-Centered Marketing uses a combination of research, empathy, design-thinking and an agile mindset along with creating business alignment across marketing, sales, product and engineering because the humans on the inside matter just as much as prospects and customers.

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WHY
HUMAN-CENTRICITY
MATTERS?

We've seen brand trust decline globally; technology has created invisible barriers between brands and consumers. The raw, unfiltered voice of customers and teams get lost, and it is the main reason why customer experience is the number one focus area for brands today globally.

We see four drivers creating a need for a Human-Centric approach:

01

The Automation Gap

The desire to automate internally for efficiencies has created a divide between businesses and customers. As marketers, whether we are in startups or established businesses, we've spent a lot of time finding tools to make our lives easier. This search hasn't been focused on improving customer experience and the adopted technology has created a barrier of sorts between customers and companies.

02

The Super
Specialist

The world has become more complicated and we've built armies of specialists to deal with these complexities. As a result, businesses have forgotten to cultivate an internal staff member that is truly skilled at examining the business's entire customer journey. More often than not, the journey is broken down into bite-sized chunks, which makes the customer experience inconsistent because it doesn't connect seamlessly.

03

The Super
Customer

We can all find whatever we need in 3 seconds on a mobile and can reach out to whoever we want to get recommendations or guidance. Customers have found their voice and will speak up when they spot glitches or ways to improve your products. Where it gets tricky is if the business is using technology and the teams are working in silos, often the customer knows more than people inside the business. 

04

The Deep Tech Unknown

2018 is the year we've been able to say we don't have clarity on how technology impacts people tomorrow.  We don't understand the long term ramifications of technology and thinking about the human impact helps us to build and plan more meaningfully. We know we won't always get it right, but it's better to forward plan than to constantly have to ask for forgiveness.

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4 STEPS TO BUILDING A HUMAN BRAND TOMORROW

Nothing beats walking in your customer’s shoes and going through the experience yourself. Put yourself in a learning mindset. If you’re constantly looking at your business, it will be difficult to notice the things that make it a poor experience, so make sure to approach this step with an open mind. 

01

Walk

Nothing beats walking in your customer’s shoes and going through the experience yourself. Put yourself in a learning mindset. If you’re constantly looking at your business, it will be difficult to notice the things that make it a poor experience, so make sure to approach this step with an open mind. 

02

Listen

Are you listening to your customers as they go through the experience?  Are you asking for their feedback? If your customer knows they’re being heard, they’ll be more likely to see your business as one who understands and cares about their views. Championing empathy for customers and teammates will determine what brands are still here tomorrow and in the next five years. 

03

Impact

What actions are you taking on the feedback you get from your customers? Does feedback come through regularly and go all the way to the top? Or, does it only get escalated if there is an extreme issue?

04

Grow

How can you grow together in a way that drives customer happiness and commercial success? What growth roadmap can you build that will champion the raw, unfiltered voice of customers so you can grow together?.

This doesn't need to be complicated.

Last week I was working with a client who was struggling to scale as their value proposition was complicated. The traditional way the team had built their selling story was by putting product and technical details first. We flipped that on the head and went out into the field and collected customer feedback by partnering with the sales team. During a Value Proposition workshop, we were able to prioritize what customers' needs actually were. We then explained the benefits of the products based on what customers wanted. Because we did this with the full team, it meant we were able to establish buy-in from the entire group. We were able to do all this over a couple of relatively painless workshops. 

We’re now going to pilot the new thinking after less than two weeks.

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WALK AND LISTEN
AS AN UNDERCOVER CUSTOMER

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If you were to walk in your customers’ shoes today, what might you discover about the current experience? Well, provided you’re brave enough to check, here are four things you might notice about your business:

01

Hide and Seek

If your startup is in a “hide and seek” situation, it might feel like navigating your business online is a maze.  When startups are building new forms of technology using AI, Machine Learning or Blockchain, it's tough to understand what the product is, how it's different from the competition and how to use it. Add in the complexity of digital channels and the different ways customers have to contact you and it's no wonder so many organisations fumble. 

How to tell if your startup is in a "Hide and Seek" situation: 

  • Can prospects find you when they search on their mobile?
  • Does your content provide all the information potential customers need in the one spot? 
  • Is it easy for customers to contact you with one click, a call or a ticket? 

Have you taken the time to map out the customer journey your prospects take? Have you looked at how they make decisions at critical points along this journey? Perhaps, different parts of your business are responsible for different phases of the journey and aren’t connecting effectively. It’s also possible that company silos are getting in the way here.

02

Disconnected
Body and Tail

It's easy to fall into the trap of a disconnected body and tail at a startup because everything moves at startup speed. It could be that the product or engineering team are out building the next feature, the customer success team is solving the customer challenges today and the sales team are busy hitting the acquisition targets for the week. All of this impacts the overall customer experience if people across teams aren't aligned.

How to know your startup has a "disconnected body and tail": 

  • Do you have a clearly defined company vision and mission?
  • Is everyone working towards one single goal or KPI?
  • Do teams share what's happening in their department or is there a single place to find the latest updates? 

When resources are lean and the focus is on shipping product, it's easy to get disconnected. The downside is the impact this has for the customer, which is why it's so important to communicate, communicate, communicate.

03

Computer
Says No

It's tough to juggle the next build and release with a lean team. Passionate customers love to reach out and ask technical questions or request for new features. The challenge is not being able to confirm updates or features in the roadmap. To a customer it's good, old-fashioned "Computer Says No". A Human-Centered startup crafts a better way to communicate what's possible and the future state of updates.

How to spot a “Computer says no” situation:

  • Is the roadmap and development plan based on customer requests?
  • Are team members rewarded for solving problems?
  • Is the startup set up to be agile to change in unexpected situations?

Not every customer is a perfect fit, and it’s impossible (and ill-advised) to say yes to everything. But, having a structured way to implement product and service feedback will help you build deeper relationships with customers. We all love to co-create nowadays and it also helps build super fans. 

04

The Smiling Assassin

When startups are lean, time crunched, and running at a million miles an hour, it's easy for them to struggle with tough customer conversations. After a bad day, the default answer is to smile and say yes with the best of intentions. Things start to collapse when customer demand outweighs company capabilities or resources. Instead, use this as an opportunity to start managing customer expectations -- and, your own ability to handle challenging conversations. 

How to spot a “Smiling Assassin” situation:

  • How do you handle negative feedback?
  • How do you manage negative reviews from employees and customers on social channels?
  • How do you manage a customer expectation gap?

Remember, it’s the human beings in your organisation that keep your business running, so they should never come second.

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MAKE AN IMPACT WITH A NICHE THAT SELLS

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Think back to when the world was a little bit smaller. You'd buy a brand because it was available or your Mum recommended it. You didn’t have the luxury of hunting online, following brands that inspire you on Instagram or doing some rigorous product review research on Amazon.

Today's world is a digital one where all startups have the power to be global. Finding a human niche that sells is the only way to stand out. Defining your niche is bravely knowing that you are not a brand for everyone. It’s about standing for something and engaging your customers consistently day in and day out. It’s about offering value to your customer in a way that no other brand can.

Here are four examples of brands that have found their human voice and are cutting through in a noisy digital world.

01

How To Conquer a Battleground

How do you take a stand in a highly competitive world where most brands end up looking like everyone else in the category? When you define and shape a brand new battleground, it helps to give the brand a purpose beyond the product. People purchase meaning.

Typeform is a beautiful example of a brand that has redefined the data collection battleground. Born out of Barcelona, they are a web-based platform for collecting and sharing information.

Typeform bravely defines the existing category as "boring". Their viewpoint is that "Online forms are boring – Typeforms fix that. Beautifully designed, asking one question at a time like a real conversation". And that's what their product does, every survey or feedback form you build is customised, beautiful and conversational.

The Typeform team has turned data collection into an experience. They have successfully defined a battleground they can conquer and, at every stage of using their product, you intimately feel that engagement.

What I find inspiring about the brand is that the battleground also links to their culture and values. In their Barcelona headquarters, rather than entering a standard office reception area, you enter into a bar. The bar has become an essential meeting point for the team to have real conversations so much so that people off the street often pop their head in and ask for a coffee.

What can we learn from Typeform?

  • Redefine battlegrounds and highlight what's missing in the current world
  • Relentlessly build a product experience that delivers on this
  • The battlefield goes beyond the brand and is a part of the company culture

02

How To Solve
Faster or Better than
the Competition

Think about the job to be done for your customer. How do you address this challenge in a way that no one else can? This is where determining your niche is vital because, if you can clearly define it, then you'll delight your ideal customer. Solving a pain point faster or better also means that you aren't fixing something for everyone in the world: just the people who need it.

Drift is doing this today, and they are solving business sales conversations through a brilliantly designed "Conversational Marketing Platform". The guys are ex-Hubspot, they have a superb heritage in B2B software, and were able to spot a gap in the market that traditional tools weren't able to solve. 

What chatbots and marketing platforms weren't solving were conversations. Platforms are traditionally great at automating marketing and sales, but they lack in their ability to allow you to converse with customers at scale. Drift's customers rave about the increased quality of their leads on their website and attribute this to having better conversations online.  These conversations offer a more intelligent way to qualify a marketing lead and instantly jump to an inside sales conversation.

Upon reviewing their niche, I believe they are solving the challenge of B2B sales faster and better than everyone else. They are clear in their niche. They aren't trying to convert B2C sales or traditional product sales. It's clear they are using Drift to have more meaningful B2B sales conversations. The platform initially started with chatbots having cracked this, they've just added on email.

Let's have a look at their marketing: If you jump on their website or get an email, you'll also notice how conversational their marketing is everywhere. Drift is beautifully living their niche. 

What can we learn from Drift?

  • Focusing in on a niche gives you meaning, purpose, and an ability to concentrate on solving a real problem 
  • Use speed to develop and test one product before expanding
  • Living their "Conversation" platform idea in all their marketing and messaging

03

How To Be Unique
at Each Stage
of the Journey

What makes you unique? How can you be meaningfully different at every stage of the customer journey? How you bring that uniqueness to all phases of the journey is a growth opportunity today. From finding you on search to connecting with you on social media to engaging with you when someone submits a ticket. What’s your secret sauce?

Zoom is my go-to for video chat. I first heard about Zoom because a client of mine in New York was using it. I was floored by how incredible the experience was when jumping onto a call or when using it to set up meetings. 

Every stage of the journey was incredible. Using their free service, chatting with their chatbot, onboarding and training. You name it. The whole process was very well thought out. When I signed up to be a paying customer of Zoom, I had a guy in Sydney reach out for a 15-minute video on-boarding call. He asked a couple of questions about how I found out about Zoom and most importantly helped to make sure I knew my way around.

Recently, when a LinkedIn contact asked for a recommendation for a video chat tool, I wasn't surprised when myself and dozens of others recommended Zoom. As a brand fan, I was delighted when a Zoom employee also reached out to connect on LinkedIn. These guys are doing the little human things that don't scale but make a huge impact.

What can we learn from Zoom?

  • This brand has been propelled because of referrals
  • Not only does their product work, but the experience at every stage of the journey is human and epic
  • Zoom partners with you to use their product throughout the customer journey

04

How To Live Your Behaviours

Behaviours can define a niche. Businesses have an opportunity to craft a niche based on how you behave company-wide, across teams or when you partner with customers.

Death to the Stock Photo is a refreshing example of a business behaving differently. If the name doesn't make you smile alone, their beliefs do.

I first heard about Death to the Stock Photo when I was hunting for stock imagery that was different and not so stocky. The team see stock photography as a "programmed mentality". Every part of the experience and the way the brand behaves is the antithesis of automation. And these refreshing behaviours define them.

Their co-founder David Sherry talks about how the stock photos they create are not fake, forced or contrived. When the team take another scene or set of images, they intend to make them more authentic than traditional stock imagery. Or just, not programmed.

You can spot the "non-programmed" behaviours as they offer a free group of images up front that have real stories behind them. The anti-automation behaviours continue as you experience their platform, hear from them in emails and listen to them tell their story.

What can we learn from Death to the Stock Photo?

  • Behaviour can be scaled in product
  • Behaviours can be felt everywhere
  • Behaviours can define your niche
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grow and
make sense
of data

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How can you make use of that beautiful business intelligence you’ve been collecting when it comes to building a human brand? 

I’ve observed that more time is spent collecting data and not enough time taking action. It's something I've seen businesses & startups struggle with for the past decade.  Sadly, despite sexy dashboards and APIs to connect we are still trying to build 36-storey condos rather than the simple house of data that we need to do business.

How do you know if you and the team are over indulging and building a data condo? Time, action and results. If more than 80% of the time is spent collecting data and the group runs out of steam, energy or resources to use it, then it's time for a re-think. We need to get better at asking what we want from data rather than collecting because we can.

When we ask questions first, we have the power to become leaner and active in our digital marketing decisions.

We’ll work out five speedy data collection strategies for five different scenarios so that you and your lean team can spend more time taking action:

01

For Day-To-Day Micro Decisions

Forget about perfect and fall in-love with micro dashboards! From Google Analytics to Crazy Egg to Facebook Analytics, there are a ton of useful tools out there that allow you to see what's going on without the need for re-engineering analysis. There are also straightforward ways to pipe this through if you are looking at an overall visualisation tool or dashboard across the business.

I recently worked with a startup who was building an accidental 36-storey condo. The team was diligently collecting, mining, cleaning, structuring and then collating some more. I asked the group what decisions they were making with the current data. There wasn't a simple answer because the team had forgotten why they were collecting data other than to justify digital spends.

The solution was to identify what questions needed answers. Together, we decided on three questions to answer for day-to-day tactics. The first was "what's working", the second "what's not working" and third "what don't we know?”. We asked these three questions in the context of the business goals.

02

For More Significant Questions About
the Future of Business

Have you been called to a "strategy meeting" with the founder to build out the next five-year roadmap? Sometimes planning cycles are organised in businesses, other times these meetings strangely happen last minute.

As a Marketer, what can you bring to the table? It's time to cast aside the monster dashboard and last quarters 100-page analytic report.

If it's a five-year outlook, collecting intent data is gold. Look at search trends and behaviours to anticipate what your customer needs will be in the future. Search trends are a goldmine for marketers – and benefitting from using this doesn't require hours of painstaking, detailed analysis.

I worked with a client recently who wanted to know where to grow over the next 5 years. We used a range of social trend and search data to identify the value, volume and intent. We looked at the data both short-term and over multiple year periods to spot real trends. Using intent data we were able to decide which countries to focus on and in what order.

A long-term strategy doesn't need to be complicated and nor does the data that you bring to the table.

03

For Spotting Gaps
in the Customer Journey

Let's be pragmatic. If you want end-to-end analytics, this is probably going to take you a gazillion dollars and twelve months to gain traction. If you are looking for a quick solution to spot gaps in your customer experience, it's time to turn to unfiltered, raw qualitative feedback.

I remember when I first worked in research agencies almost 20 years ago, this was before we had automated coding for qualitative responses,  dazzling word clouds or a way to filter down responses. I would sit there with a cup of coffee and read customer responses one by one. I'd then share what the customers really said.

You can do too, even if it's just for a couple of hours. Get everyone in a room, chart out what you know today about the customer experience. Ask each team to get involved including Sales, Product or Customer Success for their inputs. Open up the latest round of tickets, feedback, NPS or however you collect data and manually take a look.

I did this recently with a team and spent time moving through customer feedback to spot how we could reduce churn and improve customer lifetime value. In addition to uncovering growth opportunities, we came away with two key takeaways about how the team were currently working.

The first learning was the team hadn't been communicating outside of their silos. Each group whether it was product or sales or even customer success was dealing with each of their own customer challenges. Each group had their own dashboards, reporting and way of viewing the world. No single person was in charge of connecting the feedback to build a better experience.

The second learning was because no one had ownership, there wasn't a single list of the most critical builds or actions for the customer. It was a missed opportunity as this could easily feed into the companies product roadmap and overall strategy.

We've worked so hard over the past few years to identify ways to make things more efficient. Doing something that doesn't "scale" such as sitting as a team and discussing individual pieces of customer feedback is going to improve your customer experience more than any automated dashboard.

It's often the raw, unfiltered qualitative feedback that helps to explain what matters. Don't shy away from it.

04

For ‘Going Deep’ with New Customers

There’s nothing more useful than a human touch when connecting with customers.

Last week I was chatting with a C-suite who was talking about a competitor brand who had built a culture of going deep with customers. Whenever there was a problem, hiccup or piece of feedback the team hunted down the customer whether it was on their mobile, facebook, email, twitter or in person to listen, learn and make it better.

It sounded like a relentless culture that was wholly focused on the customers' needs. It reminded me of a presentation I saw from a food delivery startup in Singapore a couple of years ago where the CEO encouraged the teams to leave no stone unturned when resolving a customer issue.

What can we learn from these businesses and how they collect feedback? We can learn how to get back on the phone even when it goes unanswered. We can learn how to make time to go and meet a customer in person when we know the conversation is going to be uncomfortable. And most importantly, how to react with speed and persistence.

With my client, we talked about how we could create a similar culture. We talked about how we could collect more insights by actively asking, by making an effort, working fast and by making time to go deep. We talked about how we could start a central collection point of feedback whether it's a Google Document with quotes or whether we could update CRM records with what really happened rather than a glossy summary.  

Their new goal is to speak to every unhappy customer over the next 30 days by coming down from the C-suite tower and going deep.

05

For Testing
New Data

This final question was prompted by a Founder who wanted help testing a new product offer.

How do you test market demand with a new idea?

Option one is you can take months going through product testing by building the whole thing.

Or option two, you can set up a landing page and drive search and social paid traffic to it. See if there is interest until you crack the magic formula.

Simple as that.

Testing new ideas is when you want to collect data that's quick and useful. Make sure that you have a large enough sample size to make a call. Keep testing only a couple of variables so you can spot what's working. And keep testing, testing, testin.

Better to be quick than perfect so you can keep moving.

Remember, the answer isn't always more data or how to build a data condo. It's about what the question is, finding evidence and taking fast action. A brilliant client of mine used to talk about using our "Marketing Gut". Our craft, skills, knowledge & critical thinking is there for us to be bold and make a call.

Have fun building a Human-Centered approach
to Marketing!

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It's an incredible time to be working in a startup today - the impact we can make is endless. Enjoy the journey! Keep me posted on how you go as you walk, listen, impact & grow.

Reach out below as I'd love to hear from you if you have any builds, ideas or would like help.

Cat Williams-Treloar founded Humanisation, a Human-Centered Marketing Consultancy. 

Humanisation was born to help startups make a human impact in a digital world as they Go-To-Market across APAC.

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Read more about Humanisation & our WHY here, or get in contact with Cat@Humanisation.com.
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Cat is a paying customer of Zoom, Typeform & Death to the Stock photo. She has no financial affiliation and the thoughts are her own. Short pieces of the content above was originally published in the Singapore Marketer and on LinkedIn.