What connects us to brands?

Meaning that moves people

These days, so many things call for our attention.

The practice of branding in commercial tradition has been employed to craft clearer calls to a person’s identity, to help legitimize their consumer choice. Now influencing more than customer decisions, branding has begun transforming the identities and strategic trajectories of entire organizations by reframing their positions in the world. Branding is a kind of integrated organizational development. And the core of a high-quality approach captures the truth of something people are intrinsically receptive to.

What if the process of outside-in, branding-as-facade transformed? What if organizations instead developed from the inside-out, through human values?

“All processes of growth go from the inside to the outside” — Alan Watts

Human Values

To brand is to signify both value and values

Human values are the language for understanding what matters to individuals and teams: they describe intrinsic motivations. Awareness of your own and others’ human values is the foundation of psychological safety and a key insight into human dynamics. Why might this matter to organizations and businesses?

Organizations have a blindspot when they don’t know what subconsciously motivates their people, how they might interact interpersonally and adapt their values through unexpected challenges and opportunities. This blindness is often the unspoken root of intractable challenges like employee engagement, culture-based hiring, brand marketing, integrated strategy, etc. So, how might an organization become aware of its human values?

The most effective missions use maps.

An organizational map of human values: shared values gather at the core while diversity describes the details.
“We are not very good at finding things in the dark. When the lights are out, we may accidentally stumble onto (or into) things; this is a random and sometimes painful process. What we need to do is turn the lights on.” – Christine Caldwell

Think of Caldwell’s lights as the awareness of human values in your organization. Most human beings in most circumstances of everyday life “live in the dark” because of limited or no exposure to such thing as a universal language of human values. Even if we’re speakers of the same language, we’re still trapped in humanity’s Tower of Babel, with difficultly knowing ourselves, knowing others, and transparently communicating our inner experiences to each other.

At Like Humans, when we reveal and map the human values within an organization, its people together realize the shared values that create their organizational unity and the psychological variety that emboldens their real diversity. By visualizing the architecture of human meaning at play, an authentic correspondence between the individual and the collective emerges.

How might this help?

  • Organizations can develop and envision their brand identity with a deeper stake in the ground (through timeless, flexible values to express in addition to today’s planned strategy or fixed tactics).
  • In making human values conscious and visible, teams can coordinate more efficiently by identifying what actually drives individuals’ to perceive and act in the ways they do.
  • Individuals can gain greater self and other-awareness by explicitly understanding a common language to use during experiences of synergy (values alignment) and tension (values misalignment). This means higher quality communication and feedback.
  • Internal and external communication design can concentrate on what matters most to people.

Creating (or Connecting to?) Desire

Our values attract us

Marketing agencies have expended immense amounts of energy with the purpose of influencing our preference or creating desire. Historically, the process has been to add attractive new façades to existing organizations. Marketing agencies with insightful strategists and talented creatives generate their best organizational interpretations in hopes of portraying desirable representations of their organizational clients.

Much of this branding effort was delivered via Mass Media, the 20th century’s tool for creating desire. Highly-produced, nationally-distributed narratives helped point consumer society with suggestions of what was desirable. For a public without many self-knowledge tools and simultaneously influenced by a broadcast of narrow cultural information, flocks of people unconsciously followed mainstream organizations’ banners. But the 21st century brought Social Media splintering broadcast advertisers’ unidimensional narratives, increasing public interest in individuals’ own content, and introducing a broad skepticism of whether Mass Media/Marketing were ever really authentic representations of organizations in the first place.

“Authenticity is the most attractive quality of anyone, ever.” — Nick Hallam

At some point around the new millennium, Marketing realized that it needed to work on more than the façades in order to help develop more truthfully desirable organizations. One factor was a rising consciousness for organizational purpose as key feature of a desirably positioned organization in society. By engaging more socially conscious questions like, “Why do we care about what we do beyond profit?” the notion of organizational purpose communicates a fuller reason for being, expressing more significance than the financial value. It shifts the sensibility of relating to organizations from “buying” to “buying into.” While Marketing realized this new tool in its toolkit, the emergence of organizational purpose implied the presence of something deeply hidden about the dynamics of organizational development, something truer than the mascots and artboards Marketing had been used to wielding. What was it that really magnetized customers, energized employees, unified people?

“Immediately begin to form the habit of thinking “why” concerning any effects that please or displease you.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

What if we could craft a world around what people intrinsically valued, rather than trying to force square pegs (things, systems, and ideas) into round holes (humanity’s social goals)? What if brands realized that they weren’t just a pretty shell but an inner synchronization of people pursuing shared values as groups?

Organizations that realize the human values of their people and customers get a huge head-start in the genuine expression of authenticity. They can articulate their “point of difference” (or from the internal view, “point of unity”) more holistically and use it as a cultural magnet. They can elevate their aspirational quality using that which they already have.

Transforming Strategy

A new syntax

“Start with why” is a now-popular mantra. But why? Becuase “why” engages the inside — our subjective experiences, identities, hopes and dreams — the hidden values that animate human culture.

“Our task is to understand what that design is — that is to say, when we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes wide open.” — Neil Postman

What if we could make our hidden “whys” visible, tap into the cores of human experience to help craft our strategies toward serving that which people innately seek?

  • We might start to innovate with a broader, deeper mindset – leading our creative inquiries with what human values we desire in the world, rather than what technologies are possible to create (technology-first mindset isn’t required in order to improve our world; think: Technological Invention → Human-Centered Design → Human-Driven Innovation). It might help us respond with more mindfulness to the modern-day production predicament: Can we build it? Yes. Will it make us happy? ???
  • We can reframe entire businesses through integrated values-based strategy. A successful example of this, Airbnb’s rebrand shifted its strategic stance from features (inexpensive accommodations) to values (the experience of belonging anywhere), thereby transforming its business into a passionate cultural magnet. It’s like making the medium (organization) the message (values).
  • We can build strategies for organizations of lasting value, giving strategies room to pivot and evolve by establishing the qualities around which the culture gathers in the first place.

Organizations can connect people to more than more mindless consumption and uninspiring work if they rethink and realize what people really seek. The organizations that share our values are likely the organizations we’ll gravitate toward.

What connects you? Why?