Every startup knows that a smart marketing strategy is an important tool for growth. But as the challenging economic landscape continues to unfold, a shift to a more human-centric approach to marketing is becoming more essential.
“Human-to-human (H2H) marketing is a counter movement to the last 20 years of digital marketing, which has really treated marketing as being aimed at numbers, impressions and clicks,” William Gadsby Peet, cofounder and chief strategy officer at digital marketing agency Literal Humans, tells Sifted.
“We see H2H marketing as a rebellion against that and a movement back towards treating the people we're marketing to like humans, where advertising speaks to and with potential customers, not at them” he adds. “This means creating content and adverts for them that are genuinely exciting and inspiring.”
What do you need to know if your startup wants to adopt H2H marketing? Sifted chatted to the experts.
Use the power of social media
Despite launching just five years ago, TikTok has become a valuable tool for marketing teams and a crucial platform for H2H marketing.
Because over 60% of the social media platform’s user base is Gen Z — and research has found they value authenticity — startups have the opportunity to be vulnerable and learn from feedback. This can be achieved through user-generated content, such as the public unboxings or going directly to users through a company account to generate conversation.
In this day and age, we can no longer separate brands from people
Sylva Faye, social media manager at Literal Humans, says one recent example is a new jewellery brand she launched on TikTok a few weeks ago.
“The feedback from the first video we posted showed that people didn't like the jewellery,” she says. “So, in the next video, we recognised the feedback and asked what the users would like to see for the products, allowing us to build a community around the collaboration. Because we had a personality and recognised their opinions, it immediately generated trust between us.”
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According to a study from creative consultancy Lippincott, brands that exhibit human characteristics like authenticity and empathy financially outperformed their counterparts by up to 50% over four years.
“In this day and age, we can no longer separate brands from people” says Jessica Ko, CEO and cofounder of creative cloud storage solution Playbook. “A brand can be a friend you can trust. It should feel like someone you've known for a long time. It should care about social issues like the rest of us. By making it feel more human, brands can truly connect with their audience.”
Craft genuine messages for human audiences
Alice Chan is the global marketing manager at Typed, a document collaboration tool. She believes that in the current age of overexposure online, customers have grown numb and desensitised to advertising and marketing.
“It's almost an offence to consumer intelligence if we use the generic language and tired messaging we've all heard a million times,” Chan tells Sifted. “We as humans appreciate honesty and vulnerability, and a genuine message plus a desire to deliver value as a brand goes a long way.”
''We as humans appreciate honesty and vulnerability, and a genuine message plus a desire to deliver value as a brand goes a long way''
Chan says Typed tries to use language that resonates with their ideal customer profiles (ICPs) — or a high level description of their target customer.
“While a lot of research and strategising may help, the most direct solution is by talking to these ICPs,” she says. “It’s not enough to put yourself in their shoes — you need to walk and run inside them too.”
Build a memorable brand personality
H2H marketing isn’t just for business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, business-to-business (B2B) brands can benefit too.
Research by Cognism found creating content that tells a story and brings out emotions in your audience can improve B2B sales by 55%. Despite this, B2B marketers are often the sector that lags behind with creativity and risk taking.
“Most companies would far rather not offend anyone than put forward a brand personality, particularly in the B2B space,” says Gadsby Peet, adding that while it can be intimidating for startups, you're always going to be going up against a competitor with more budget and more resources.
A genuine brand personality is almost a unique selling point in and of itself, and is going to make all of your marketing efforts so much more powerful
“You need the courage to really put yourself out there with H2H marketing,” he says. “A genuine brand personality is almost a unique selling point in and of itself, and is going to make all of your marketing efforts so much more powerful.”
Shape how and when you hire with H2H principles
For Gadsby Peet putting H2H marketing in practice means prioritising hiring a social media manager to focus solely on social media marketing.
While many startup founders add social media to their daily to-do list alongside everything else, he believes a social media manager should be in a company’s first five hires. That person should live and breathe the brand voice when engaging with customers — whilst engaging in social listening that ideally feeds back into topline company strategy.
“Marketers have to do more than ever, not just to cut through all the noise, but to actually appeal to prospects in meaningful ways and to catch people without their guard up,” says Harrison Moore, CEO of Worker Feedback Club, a communication app for construction site workers. “In a world fast becoming more mediated by impersonal technology, it's pretty clear that the way to a prospect's heart is via the human touch.”
In a world fast becoming more mediated by impersonal technology, it's pretty clear that the way to a prospect's heart is via the human touch
But changing your startup’s strategy to a more human approach shouldn’t be a linear process. Experimentation is key, so commit to an approach and accept that there will be moments you get pushback — but don't give up if that happens.
Faye adds that knowing and understanding your brand story inside out will also help your marketing content stay aligned to business goals.
“Consider why you are trying to build a portfolio that represents you,” she says. “Are you trying to build followers? If you are, why? It's good to be reactive, but it's better to have fixed goals that you're working towards because if you don't have those, consumers will see through it.”