Humanise Your Business
Big data is revolutionising how businesses understand their customers and employees. However, as businesses become more data-driven, they lose their human element which does business no good over the long term. Indeed, businesses that retain and exploit their humanity are more innovative, need to spend less on marketing and can look forward to stronger, lasting relationships with their customers.
What Is Big Data?
Big data is the big thing in big business today. Big data is the collection of masses of data, largely collected from people's on-line actions. Big data records every click you make, every web page you visit and every action you take on the web. It compiles this information and stores it in massive databases that software can sift through in order to identify your interests, favourite web pages, potential purchases and more. Big data can align you with people who have similar on-line behaviour and predict possible actions you may take in the future. Look at a mobile phone on Amazon today. Tomorrow you will see mobile phone related ads on Facebook, your favourite blog and elsewhere.
Big data analyses how people respond to advertising, tests minor changes to a particular advert and monitors the results. For example, an advertiser may find that a minor wording or colour change in an on-line advert is 2.036598% more likely to lead to a sale than an alternative colour or wording.
Big data is not limited to consumers. Even employees are not safe from big data which measures productivity and suggests efficiency improvements that ensure your employees are giving their maximum potential to the company -- at least until they drop dead from stress related illness; but that's what insurance is for.
The Missing Human Element
What gets lost in all of this, of course, is the human element. Big data can give you endless data about customers and employees -- but it cannot tell you how your customers and employees feel. Big data won't tell you that, although a minor word change increases likelihood of a sale, your customers probably do not like being manipulated by big data. Big data will provide information about increasing employee productivity over the short term, but does not hint that employees will become stressed out and less productive over the long term as productivity demands take their toll on your employees' well-being.
Moreover, as big companies become more data driven, they lose their humanity and their individuality. Sales are not made because customers like your company, but because your big data tweaked an on-line advert better than your competitor's big data. Tomorrow, that same person might buy from your competitor because he does not care about you or your company. Your organisation, like your competitors', is inhuman, hard to tell apart from others and equally boring.
Even your employees care less and less about your company. If they are offered
a seemingly better job at another big data driven firm, they will jump at the
opportunity believing neither your company nor their new employer cares about
them in the slightest. They have no loyalty to faceless firms.
A Better, More Human Way
But it does not have to be this way. Look at Apple. The company has a number of human characteristics: it is cool, fashionable, trustworthy and good looking. These characteristics are passed on to their products and, as a result, Apple can charge a premium for their computers, telephones and music players; and profit handsomely. Whether an Apple iPhone is really any better than a similar Samung, LG, Acer, HTC or other telephone is debatable. Nevertheless, people will pay more for the privilege of owning an Apple iPhone. Apple has a distinctly more human face than their competitors and, as a result, people buy their products because they are Apple products -- not as a result of carefully tweaked, big data driven adverts. Indeed, Apple tends to advertise less than their competitors!
The airline industry, one that is notorious for losing money (Richard Branson famously said that the fastest way to become a millionaire is to launch an airline -- and start out as a billionaire!), gives us two interesting examples of the profitability of corporate personality.
Southwest Airlines has long had a reputation for being friendly and having a sense of humour. Youtube videos of their funny safety announcements regularly go viral. Some years ago, in order to settle a slogan trademark dispute, the CEO of Southwest challenged the CEO of the other party in the dispute to an arm-wrestling competition to decide who had the right the to the slogan. Such an approach, rather than the usual law suit, emphasised the human, friendly and gently humorous personality of Southwest. At the time if writing, the company has experienced 41 years of profitability. Such profitability is unusual in the airline industry and, I believe, largely the result of the human face of Southwest Airlines.
Ryanair is another low cost airline with a very different reputation. The company is widely perceived as being stingy, cheap and uncaring. Although these are negative characteristics, they help enhance the company’s reputation for providing very low cost flights (if you book in advance, do not have any bags and do not buy anything on the aeroplane) between European cities.
I believe Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary has purposely and calculatingly given his airline these seemingly negative characteristics. Customers understand Ryanair's personality. They do not fly the airline for comfort or customer service. They fly it as the airline that can get them from city A to city B at the lowest possible cost. A reputation for cheapness and stinginess helps enhance their low-cost brand. Ryanair has also been consistently profitable for years.
Interestingly, Ryanair does not spend a lot of money on advertising and, indeed, their first TV advert in 25 years only appeared this year. However, this is part of an image change the company is undergoing; a change that will include its human characteristics. So, it will be interesting to see how the company fares following the changes.
Publicly Assigned Personality
Sometimes the public assigns a personality to a company, whether that company likes it or not. Following the the financial meltdown of 2008, big banks and financial institutions were perceived as being evil, selfish and greedy -- not desirable characteristics at all. Companies in the oil, tobacco and genetically modified food industries have over the years been branded with similar undesirable human characteristics. Clearly, then, it is better to define your own characteristics than to let the public define those characteristics during bad times.
That said, you need to be realistic and original. Launching a US based budget
airline that is friendly and has a sense of humour would not work. The public
would quickly label you a copycat. Likewise, no major oil company could realistically
take on the characteristics of being cute and cuddly! It simply would not work.
What Can You Do?
If your organisation is a large company, government agency or non-profit that lacks any human characteristics, it will not be easy or fast to change the situation. Nevertheless, the benefits of running or working for a company that has human characteristics, especially positive ones, are enormous:
- Customers buy from you because of your reputation, not because of your data-driven adverts.
- Customers like you and recommend you to their friends.
- You can reduce advertising expenditure (following from the previous two points).
- Employees are more loyal and enthusiastic about working for you and it is not just about the salary and benefits.
- People care about you.
If these benefits appeal to you, then you need to make an effort to define and communicate a corporate personality, which includes characteristics, values, feelings and motivations. Assuming yours is a large organisation, that will not be easy. Not only do you need to define a personality, but you need to communicate the personality internally and externally. More importantly, people need to feel you deserve those characteristics and that comes from demonstrating behaviour rather than claiming to represent the behaviour. Your CEO going out of her way to help out a customer unhappy with one of your products says much more about yours being a caring company that does putting the slogan "The Caring Company" in all of your communications. Moreover, not only the CEO, but everyone in the organisation needs to follow that example of being caring.
Anthropomorphic analysis is a new methodology for identifying and exploring the human characteristics of anything (human or otherwise). It can be applied to organisations, products, services, processes and just about anything. Anthropomorphic analysis can help a management team to work out personality elements for a company as well as identify issues that might hinder the communication and recognition of that personality. Perhaps most importantly, Anthropomorphic analysis can tell you how people would feel about the personality as associated with an organisation.
Humanising Your Business Is Good for Your Business
"Humanise your business" sounds like something the growing anti-big-business lobby might shout at a protest march. However, as a few examples demonstrate, humanising your business is actually good for your business's bottom line, longevity, brand image and public relations. It might even encourage the anti-big-business lobby to like you!
What do you think? I would love to know your thoughts!
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