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October 10, 2013
Brands Need to be More Canine, not More Human
The ideal qualities of marketers are just a leash away.
I recently read an article in Advertising Age that suggested more brands are trying to behave like humans, or at least positioning themselves as a “human” brand. You would think I’d be all for this. After all, I’ve been a human for a long time. Some of my best friends are humans.
Brands shouldn’t be more like humans. They ought to be more like dogs.
Somewhere along the line, big corporations and marketers became faceless entities, keeping a large physical and mental distance from their customers. So we often don’t know who packages our food, sews our clothes, or builds our cars. And customer service became a series of endless phone calls and buck passing.
Now, because consumers have more choices and easier, direct ways to demand a brand’s attention, companies have to insist they’re human. They run ads stating that they’re essentially composed of humans on a mission to serve other humans.
So why is that a problem? Humans are messy, flighty, unpredictable, prone to changing directions and attitudes on a whim, and loveable and loathable at the same time. Those make poor qualities for a brand to emulate.
Dogs, however, make better examples for brands to follow. Or at least, the way we’d like brands to behave.
Dogs are loyal — when you feed them. Keep feeding them, pay attention to them, and they’re forever yours. Human loyalty doesn’t exactly work that way and many brands institute so-called “loyalty” programs that have nothing to do with an emotional affinity for customers, just a desire to maintain sales. So it’s better for brands to strive for dog-style loyalty. Customers who feed a brand the way you’d feed a terrier ought to feel the reciprocal love.
Dogs respond when they’re called. Often, they’ll come running. You don’t need to make an appointment to see them or maneuver though a phone tree to contact them. If they know you and they like you, dogs are completely attentive. Now that’s customer service.
Dogs get upset when you’re not around and they love it when you return. Although a good sales force or email marketing program helps brands reestablish communication when their customers haven’t bought anything lately, too many companies treat their customers as nonexistent when they’re gone for long. Perhaps more brands should run to the door with delight when their cherished customers come back.
Dogs mark their territory, one way or another. They’re fiercely protective of their turf and they’ll fight to keep it. I think that resonates more for us as marketers or advertising agency people. We want our clients to be alert, take a stand, and keep a watchful eye out. Even if it means dropping “hints” to the competition in the backyard.
Now in fairness, some brands simply aren't very obedient. Like an ill-behaved dog, they’ll piss on the couch, chew up the shoes, and snarl at everyone they see.
That’s OK. With a little training, many dogs learn from their misbehavior. We tell them when they’re behaving badly and reinforce the positive behavior. In time, they adjust. This is a good lesson, as many brands need a good swat on the nose with a newspaper.
You can certainly meet these same objectives with a bad marketer. The next time a client tells you they want to be perceived as more “human,” tell them to aim higher. Take the brand managers out for a walk to the nearest bar, rub their bellies (or kiss their asses), feed them great ideas (and a little steak and bourbon) and when needed, keep them on a short leash.
Now, get some results and they’ll truly be your best friends. 

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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