Throughout many pop references — from the classic Pinocchio to Spike Jonze’s 2013 science-fiction romantic drama, Her — the question remains: What does it mean to be human? It remains a perennial enigma and continues to be quite the philosophical debate, even among the AKIN team.
Higher cognitive capacity? Possessing conscience? A shared history?
While we cannot elucidate a world-order, here’s our own definition of what it means to be human (all religious/metaphysical matters discounted).
The AKIN human
Our understanding of what it means to be human boils down to the following characteristics:
- Has consciousness and needs reason
- Has a belief system
- Has shared stories
- Has a personality
- Has habits
- Seeks a community
We believe that these are commonalities for all humans, across borders and cultures. You may notice that we have grouped the characteristics into three pillars. We call these pillars ‘Core’, ‘Body’, and ‘Realm’. They make up the basis of our Human Brand Methodology. This framework is what we use to evaluate other brands’ ‘human-ness’ and identify areas between their C-B-R that require alignment.
A cohesive and healthy human brand has a relatable, personable story and attracts its own community.
The Pinocchio challenge
As much as Pinocchio wanted to become a ‘real’ boy in order to be loved, brands want to become human in order to relate. How do the six characteristics above translate for a business?
Made up of what an organisation believes in. It is the purpose and values that steer them and drive their every action.
Consciousness and reason : Purpose
As Descartes’ famous statement goes, “I think, therefore I am”. Humans are driven by more than instinct and instructions; we think, and we make (somewhat) autonomous decisions. We need reason to believe and do things. Likewise, human brands need a clear purpose to exist, a raison d'être, which certainly goes beyond selling more or selling faster. Having a purpose beyond itself helps give brands a clearer direction of where they are headed, regardless of trends or opportunities, and it is also a powerful motivator for staff and fans alike.
Has a belief system : Mission, vision and values
The ‘right versus wrong’: Regardless of religious subscription and alliance, everyone believes that there’s a ‘right thing to do’. However, the line between the two can be very subjective, and we all have different priorities in own belief system. What does your human brand stand for? Through resonance with the brand beliefs and values, human brands can elicit love from their followers.
Has shared stories : Brand Story
Humans are probably the only beings that tell stories, fictional or historical. More than bedtime entertainment, stories are a way to connect, pass on culture, and illustrate values in a relatable and memorable way. Similarly, human brands need to tell the story of how they came about and their journey thus far, bringing to life their unique characters and personalities.
Encompasses all the visible aspect of an organisation’s identity — their appearances, actions, and behaviours. It helps others understand who they are.
Personality : Brand Persona and Thought Spaces
One of the most prominent expressions of our individuality is our distinct personalities. It is how people expect us to act and respond, as well as what they associate us with. Having a well-defined brand persona helps guide human brands to engage in a consistent manner. In the same way we turn to certain friends for specific advice or expertise, we also look to brands to own their own thought spaces, each championing their own area.
Habits : Signature Traits & Tone of Voice
Humans are creatures of habit. We come to expect brands to behave consistently, day-in, day-out. Signature traits and tone of voice are visible cues that people use to make sense of our personalities. These tell-tale signs include quirky colours, interesting patterns, catchphrases or even a mascot!
The space an organisation exists in. It includes the people they relate, connect and even compete with.
Community : Customers, Partners, Competitors
Brands do not exist in isolation. Just as humans seek out company in fear of being lonely, human brands need to bond with their community to survive. This includes their customers, partners and even competitors; why competitors? They are probably the biggest drive for betterment, even more so than customers! Your community is very much a part of the brand itself — they are part of your voice and image. We believe that brands need to be keenly aware of who’s in their community in order to succeed. In fact, AKIN’s whole interest in the humanness of brand was inspired by the concept of imagined communities by famed sociologist, Benedict Anderson.
Can a brand really be human?
If you have read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, you may very well buy into a blanket statement that everything is a social construct. Humanity, or the quality of humanness, is too a concept.
But to clarify, AKIN starting point for humanising brands is to help companies understand how a brand can develop itself rather than become a real human being (sorry Pinocchio!). Figuring out how a brand would live as a human being would help it engage with real people. Corporates are abstract and difficult for people to understand. A human brand, however, has values, a personality and culture that people can see and relate to. This is why we are drawn to non-humans most when they behave like humans, such as artificial intelligence or animals, as it is intuitive and familiar.
This is why it is easy to love human brands but not businesses.
Beyond that, we hope to help brands align between their Core, Body and Realm. If a brand has a purpose-driven Core, but a poorly presented Body, would we overlook it? Probably not. This is simply because there isn’t a consistent brand for customers to engage sensibly with. Coherence and consistency are the basis for trust and relationships.
Who will you brand be as a human?
Here at AKIN, we believe in empowering brands to be human — this is the methodology that guides our everyday decisions and work here.
As part of our vision to create a world of human brands, here’s our Human Brand Methodology framework template, entirely free, which you can use to make sense of your brand.
If you would like to speak to someone from the team, on what it means for a brand to be truly human, connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you on the other side!
Written by Hanson Ng
Original version written by Harris Lim