H2H: How the “Human to Human” Marketing Approach Reveals Who We Are in Business and in Life

The H2H (Human2Human) concept has taken hold of the marketing sector. But it’s not just customers who benefit from an honest, personalized and straightforward exchange with another person? What’s really happening is that we’re living in a world of transparencies while we’re pushing away intermediaries and filters, both real and self-constructed. Now more than ever, we desire forging and maintaining 1:1 relationships with direct access to customers, and real experiences with each other. Value propositions now need to come directly from the source — you, as a person. These messages can come from the CEO or an evangelist. But it has to come from a person… not a brand.

In this quest to “humanize” business, the H2H concept has taken hold in virtually every aspect of operations. Brands are trying to become more “authentic” in order to attract top talent. For example, a study conducted at Georgia Tech asked students if they cared more about the brand they work for, or their actual boss. Guess what? Most students wanted to work for people who did great things like invent Gmail. They were less interested in the brands, and more interested in the accomplishments of their potential boss/mentor.

But, of course, as with most marketing trends, the whole H2H idea is teetering on cliché as we attempt to apply it to every possible marketing and internal strategy. So let’s break it down. Part of the evolution of H2H is that we have an idea of what being “corporate” is. So what is it? Cold, unfeeling, sociopathic? Do brands really care about people, or just profits? Certainly, it varies from industry to industry. But in the startup world, entrepreneurs are most often driven by passion and purpose as a means toward profits — not necessarily the other way around.

We’ve entered a period in history in which brands are built around people, not just products. Because the reality is that company brands don’t live forever. But our personal brands will. This is a predominant mindset in start up culture. In fact, many times you don’t know if they’re pitching their company or themselves.

So, is it possible to be “fully human” or “fully yourself” in business? How can we develop an authentic business persona — both in relationship building and winning customers? How has the H2H concept filtered down into helping us understand ourselves within the context of business?

In my case, I’m 46 years old, so there are definitely aspects of me that are pretty fully baked. If you’re in your 20s, you’re a bit more pliable and you don’t get to opt out and say, “that’s the way I am.” Even so, I sometimes find myself bending a little to what my audience needs and wants. On a recent speaking trip to Estonia, I ditched my regular t-shirt wardrobe for a collared shirt. If you knew me, you’d be shocked. But I had sense that in this European setting, dressing up a little would a sign of respect to my audience.

In the last five years I’ve started to slowly break down walls between my “business self” and my “personal self.” I don’t want to say my “authentic” self because I think that betrays the spirit of what I’m doing in business. What I do is about relationships and innovation. I bring my whole self to that setting. But the way business has been done throughout my adult life is that you want people to be able to see as much as possible without personal biases or distraction. But what I’m learning is that, in my 40s, I can show more of my “personal self” without the fear of alienating people or being unfairly judged before I have an opportunity to add value.

For example, I do a lot of stuff on Instagram. Colleagues are starting to understand that I’m allowed to be goofy, but I’m not offensive. Some of my clients watch everything I do on Facebook — my travels, my adventures and more. But that’s OK. Because people want to do business with people, not brands. Me putting myself out there — my sense of humor, successes and missteps — is a way for me to attract the sort of people I enjoy working with. Sure, a lot of people go over the top trying to be interesting. But I’m not trying to be interesting to everybody. No one can do that.

It’s a lot of work keeping up with two lives. So if I break it all down, I can figure out what kind of person I want to be and who I want to work with. In start up culture, you can be who you are.