Brand Checkup: Where’s the Human in Your Brand?

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been posing some tricky branding questions. Today, I’ll introduce my last test for assessing the quality of your brand’s online presence: How human is your brand? That is, how sympathetic to, reflective of, and relevant to the human condition is your brand’s online presence?

Brand Misspelling

Remembering URLs is one thing. Remembering their correct spellings is another. If you key in “” rather than “,” will it matter? Luckily it won’t. The people at Google know their company’s name may not be easy to spell for everyone. It may present non-English speaking visitors with particular problems. So Google optimizes traffic by allowing for a range of spelling variations.

Brand Humor

Humor is human. Creating brand relationships is all about being human. Forget the corporate-speak, company jargon, and insider acronyms. Talk to your customers the way they talk to you. And don’t filter humor away from your site.

I recently saw a Virgin Atlantic aircraft with “BA — NO WAY” emblazoned on its flank. Knowing “BA” is British Airways, Virgin’s biggest competitor, I couldn’t help chuckling at the open joke. The airline good-naturedly jokes about its competitors — and customers love it.

But don’t go too far, or you could get into hot water. Over the past week, a controversial joke has been widely, but falsely, attributed to Google, for better or worse. It’s the type of thing some would love, and others would hate. Type “Weapons of mass destruction” into Google’s search box and click “I’m Feeling Lucky.” A fake error message appears, explaining, “These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed.” It continues, “The weapons you are looking for are currently unavailable. The country might be experiencing technical difficulties, or you may need to adjust your weapons inspectors mandate.” The “message” is in reality a Web page not affiliated with Google, yet many have taken it to be Google’s own commentary.

Brand Error

How often have you received one of those stupid error messages telling you a link is down, your search inquiry is wrong, or you forgot to fill out a field? All are branding opportunities! In such situations, we tend to be irritated with ourselves for having provided inaccurate information and at the brand for being incapable of reading our minds.

You can turn a tense situation into a positive experience with humor. Change gray error boxes to branded error boxes. Poke fun at the situation. Give customers something to enjoy in your error notices. Maybe make them look forward to activating it again.

Brand Legalese

We all have them, and I reckon we all hate them. Legal disclaimers are a fact of life. How many people actually read them? Not many. Setting aside legal necessity, they’re a waste of time and energy. Unless you use this component of your site to further give voice to your brand.

Turn legalese into easy reading, perhaps add a twist of humor. Imagine having to digest a 40-page contract before business could begin. You’d be none too charmed. But if the legal documentation were enjoyable to read, comprehensible, and relevant, you’d develop an enhanced affinity for the brand concerned. The courtesy of a well-written document adds to a brand’s human-friendly image.

You may think all this is obvious. It is. The art of professional branding lies in making brands as human as possible. It’s no coincidence some brands receive fan letters, as if they were pop stars. These are the brands people find human.

Obvious as it may seem, does your brand’s online presence reflect the human condition in any of the above ways? Follow my upcoming columns. I’ll look at branding, human-style.

Join us at the Jupiter ClickZ Advertising Forum in New York City on July 30 and 31.

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