What a Human Brand is Not: Common Mistakes of Companies Trying to Humanise

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In bid to become more personable to customers, many brands jump on the humanising b(r)andwagon, often with only half a good understanding of what it really is. Such behaviour could be seen as a prelude for a full-blown disaster, where the company’s reason-of-being collapses like a deck of cards due to its hollowed core. Rebranding your company’s identity can be a ridiculously costly investment, and it is unlikely to pay off if you do not fully comprehend what you are in for, of know how to make the most out of it.

If you are a little unfamiliar with that a “human” brand is to start with, do read our introductory post, “Why Should Brands Embrace Their Humanity”, first.

So, what are some major misconceptions companies have about human brands, and what’s the right way around them? Here’s AKIN’s suggestion of three things you can pay attention to.

[X] A human brand is a one-off exercise

Human brand exercise

Truth is, a human brand is relatively easy to create (using our Human Brand Methodology Framework) but it is incredibly tough to maintain. Talking the talk and walking the walk demands stellar discipline throughout the whole corporate chain to stay true to the stated cause and values.

As with any major organizational shift, this can go very wrong. In 2011, Spanish telecom giant Telefónica chased after the digital buzz and formed a unit to come up with innovative ideas, in attempts to find a new digital positioning and compete with up-and-coming players. However, the unit had a separate CEO and was independent from the rest of the company. It was no surprise that after three years of developing, testing and piloting ideas, the unit was not able to convince the country heads to align with this new direction and was shut down.  

Companies that do not have a rock-solid hold on their purpose will end up chasing after every wave that sweeps by, leaving a mess of their original business proposition in its wake. Check out this example when Starbucks tried to do a nostalgic throwback with their green and white logo.

[X] A human brand has all the answers

Marketing puzzle

With the amount of effort that goes into articulating a human brand, some may expect for it to solve all brand issues (reasonably so). They imagine the process to be like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, where they will see everything in its entirety and find all the answers after piecing the bits together. Sorry to disappoint, but a human brand is not a miracle cure.

Adopting a human brand is more like having a measuring stick, or guide stick, to help you set straight the alignment between your Core, Body and Realm. Its key function is to help you find true congruence in your identity. Let’s take a look at how Typefrom realigned their C-B-R for success.

Typeform is a data collection tool, whose tagline was “Make things a little more human”. This is a great starting point until they realised that it wasn’t easy to reconcile their bit-and-bytes products with how they want to be seen; they are, by-and-large, an analytics-driven tech business.

Working with DesignStudio, they played around with rings as their key visual element — which alludes to a range of ideas from tree rings, to topographic lines, to the Zen Ensō Circle. They eventually settled on a single-lined, organic ring, which undulates subtly, to represent both the rational and emotional values the brand stands for. The new visual identity helped to show vulnerability and release emotional empathy within their users, which was largely absent from their original branding. As they have aptly summed it up themselves, their new brand is simply “people first” (You can read their full story here). Well done, Typeform!

[X] A human brand just for show

Rebranding with a heart

The core of any good human brand is authenticity. A litmus test for this is how hard the brand has to try to stay true to it. Selecting your brand mission and values isn’t just a gimmick or PR statement (or worse, for namesake); it has to be ingrained into the business through and through, and be what the people truly believe in.  

Here’s a positive example. To keep up with a new generation of hotel guests and travelers who are seeking out adventure and culture, Traders Hotel deep-dived into a global rebrand in 2014, emerging with the vivacious new Hotel Jen. With a generous splash of livid colours, an affable persona, and a friendly, fuss-free vibe, the brand was tip-to-toe millennial-ready. However, their rebrand wasn’t just about having a fresh coat of paint.

Hotel Jen took time to delve into the psychographics of their target crowd and tried to tease out just what makes the best experience for them. They rolled out a friendlier, casual check-in process and introduced their staff as ‘personal local lifestyle guides’. Catering to the urban explorer, these efforts were a bid to help guests experience local culture and get an insider peek into the city.

It is just as important to examine your business proposition and processes when adopting a human brand, rather than just look like one!

A human brand is not a vacation; it is a lifestyle choice.

There is no easy way around it. But when it pays off, its benefits go beyond dollars and cents. Having a human brand is not for every company; it is for companies looking to find and share a sense of purpose, belonging and greater good.

You can definitely still survive without a human brand. But is just surviving enough?

If you believe that a human brand is for you, do check out our Human Brand  Methodology template  to embark on your adventure. Or reach out to us at to discuss where you would like to take your brand in the next five years. Cheers, from one human brand to another!

 Written by Hanson Ng

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