Skip to content

Brands Need To Be Different, And That Requires The Human Touch

September 26, 2018

Jay W. Richards wrote a recent opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. His premise: automation will eliminate some jobs, but many consumers want (and are willing to pay for) the human touch.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Here’s a telling line:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

As ever more goods become cheap commodities, the economic value of the human touch goes up.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Mr. Richards cites Starbucks baristas as an example:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can make a decent cup of coffee at home for 20 cents… or get good coffee at the office Keurig for 50 cents. Or drink a bottomless cup with free half-and-half at your local diner for $1.50. Down the street, though, Starbucks baristas serve labor-intensive coffee experiences to a stream of customers for a lot more money.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

Barista in coffee bar shop wearing Scottish tam hat with coffeepot earring pouring milk making latte design Nessie Loch Ness Monster personal handmade artisan labor human touch

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highHe also cites the growing demand for organic and locally sourced products: craft beers, grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, farmers markets.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

What does this trend mean for brands?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Some people– not everyone, but some– want more than a commodity. They want an experience, something truly unique.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Seth Godin observes that market disruption (automation, Amazon, crowdsourcing) is a huge threat to any merchant who merely creates a commodity. He also notes that cheap is the last refuge for the marketer who can’t figure out how to be better.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Jasmine Bina of The Concept Bureau would change “better” to “different.” She cautions against falling into the “better” trap. Saying you’re “better” does nothing to distinguish you from competitors. Everyone claims to be better. You get lost in the crowd. Being different is what matters.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can’t create commodities and expect people to pay extra for them. Starbucks customers aren’t just buying coffee– they’re buying an experience, along with the attitude and the little things that come with it. They’re also buying a certain status, a certain set of perceived values. They’re making a statement about who they are.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Marketing professor Freddy Nager says that customers buy products and services for their own little stories— stories they hope will turn out well.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

What’s the lesson for brands? Designer David Scott puts it this way:

In the end, it’s the brands who’ve figured out strategically how to make people feel good and give them some sort of differentiated value that end up on top. So it’s about the emotional coupled with the rational.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Quick recap:

1. If you only offer a commodity, it’s a race to the bottom– because there will always be someone willing to work more cheaply.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

2. Many people want more than a commodity. They want an experience, and/or something personal that meets their needs– and they’re willing to pay for it.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

3. Some people are making a values statement when they choose a brand. It becomes part of their identity.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

4. Brands succeed when they make people feel good, and help them live out their own stories (how they see themselves, their hopes and dreams)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

5. Brands don’t succeed by being louder, more intrusive, or “better.” They succeed by being different.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

6. All the above applies equally to brand content. You can’t be different and promise unique value if your content looks like everyone else’s.blank vertical space, 32 pixels highmilk coffee latte design Nessie Loch Ness Monster personal handmade artisan labor human touch for branding

blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

    *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *      blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels high

Recommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Liz Novak art director Inside Counsel Magazine Summit Business Media

blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

blank vertical space, 40 pixels high

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Mia Moravis permalink
    September 26, 2018 8:53 AM

    Mark, this is so informative! Thank you so much for these insights!

    👏🏻 👏🏻 👏🏻



    • November 2, 2018 9:01 AM

      Glad you found it helpful, Mia! That human touch is certainly a part of all your own marketing efforts!! 👍


  2. September 26, 2018 12:25 PM

    Well I wholeheartedly agree with the points you make here, keep in mind that one of the rationals for automation is…. quality. Which reinforces the idea of being different to compete.


    • November 2, 2018 9:28 AM

      Many thanks for your comment, and I apologize for this very late reply. It’ll be interesting to see how automation and AI ultimately play out. The idea seems to be that AI will track your browsing and shopping and social activity so closely, that a brand employing AI will be able to “personalize” their exchanges with you– send you offers and messages which reflect your interests as deduced from your online behavior. The idea makes a certain logical sense, but I can’t say it strikes me as very human. We shall see.

      Re quality: that’s a tough question: is high-quality work/product/service enough to make a brand different? High quality work certainly gets one’s attention, and tends to foster customer loyalty, but then you run up against the situation where competing brands offer comparable high quality work– those brands need some other way to connect emotionally and thereby stand out as “different.” The business of “being different” is complex (at least in my mind), but essential– something every brand needs to think about.

      Well, that was a rambling response! Many thanks for stopping by, and thanks again for your supportive comment!


  3. RKLikesReeses permalink
    September 30, 2018 1:48 PM

    Such a timely post!! Love the illustrations and also how you did the “recap.” That’s a great idea! I’ve never been to a Starbucks – out-of-a-jar store brand instant is my version of coffeee LOL – but WOW it’s so true that many people expect much more from brands than they used to. TERRIFIC!!


    • November 10, 2018 6:19 PM

      Many thanks, my dear RK! Yes, a recap is always a good idea– especially when your hat blows off!! I’ve only been to a Starbucks a few times, and always because someone else wanted to go there. Give me an old-fashioned diner with a pie display, greasy spoons, and buck-and-a-half urn coffee in a thick heavy cup with free refills!! Funny, tho: I’ve just described the little touches that reel me in, and I’m sure Starbucks fans feel the same way about their barista-related “perks.” (Hey– was that a coffee pun??) : )


  4. October 11, 2018 7:55 AM

    Maybe one day you can tell us about the personal touch in graphics by a human being rather than by a robot… I’m certain someone out in big world is applying AI to illustrations….


    • November 10, 2018 8:24 PM

      Well, I found a robot drawing arm that draws on paper, and a tiny robot that draws on walls, but they only reproduce images that have been fed to them. I’m sure robots could be programmed to draw any object, from any angle, based on images stored in their memory; the big question: could a robot be taught to formulate a concept to express an idea or point of view? one that reflected his client’s objectives? Now that would require a human touch, more specifically, a leap of human imagination! Time will tell, I guess…

      Many thanks, Jean, for your comment and support! : )


      • November 11, 2018 10:38 AM

        Have you pitched to…technology firms? Seriously…ones that may need a human angle as part of their product. Or the opposite, campaigns to use social media, Internet safely/in a critical eye manner? Do approach a large public library one day….


        • November 11, 2018 8:44 PM

          Thanks, Jean. I have pitched to tech firms, but I probably haven’t put sufficient stress on the importance of their having a human touch; that demonstrating warmth and humanity is especially critical for tech brands which can be seen as cold, remote, empirical. Thanks for an excellent suggestion. Re a large public library: I’m going to sneak into yours and drop my business card in the Suggestion box!! 👍😊

          Liked by 1 person

  5. November 17, 2018 7:39 AM

    I think the motto should be “Anyone can make you coffee. Nobody will make you coffee quite like us.”

    This was a very insightful post and really highlights the importance of the human touch and ultimately, it’s the difference we offer which makes us special. Not only an important lesson for brands but also for life 🙂


    • December 15, 2018 12:26 PM

      What a wonderful comment!!– that deserves a free grande supremo expresso latte with whipped cream, hot fudge, walnuts, and a cherry on top!! (you can probably tell I don’t speak barista and have no grasp of the niceties of coffee prep!!) I like your motto!– have you considered a career as a copywriter?? Your “it’s the difference we offer which makes us special” is a brilliant insight that applies to both coffee beans and human beans!! Thanks, Lily– for your ongoing support and emphatic human touch!! 👍😊


Leave a Reply to Lily Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: