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October 3, 2007
It's More Than Digital: Why Paying Attention to Human Behavior Will Pay Off in a Digital World

If I knew then what I know now. I enjoy recounting my early days in the agency business. I was full of energy, curiosity, and was certainly more verbal than I was thoughtful. I didn’t miss an opportunity to share my opinion. What have I learned since then? It sure pays off to take a beat, listen, and read the room. Observe human behavior. What pushes their buttons? What draws an emotional response? You find patterns, learn things about people – the way they work, what they care about. This is precious information when your goal is to reach your audience and make your brand resonate.

So how is it that human behavior is somehow overlooked when we talk about the latest wave of communication – the digital age? It’s certainly an exciting time and there is clearly an opportunity to reach new audiences in new ways. But every time I turn around, an agency is staking a claim in the digital space that is the be-all, end-all of communication. Not that I don’t believe in the digital movement. I cut my teeth in the technology industry and I believe in applying technology for greater advancement.

Digital is and will continue impacting the way we communicate and reach audiences. But there is a balance. Consumers are living in a balanced world of offline and online interactions with brands. To be focused on just one area is a missed opportunity. Yes, people are spending more and more time online. And although they click, at the end of the day, it is still about the human. What are their desires and beliefs? How do you go from the click-thru to making the brand stick? Banner ads may be popular, but how much of that click-thru is actually carried in the mind, in the consciousness? It is about the brand remaining with the human being once they leave the computer.

What kinds of employees do I look for as Brodeur moves forward in the digital age? I look for an intuitive blend of skill sets. In the past we used to hire people with a classic PR pedigree. Now we are starting to see people from very different backgrounds contributing to the equation. Thirty percent come to the communications discipline from a nontraditional background – psychology, liberal arts, science. They are able to apply their experiences studying humans and their thoughts, ambitions, needs. They are able to blend the offline and online world in communications. I’m looking for talent that can blur the lines by seeing both environments and assimilating them into one thought process.

When I think about the kinds of employees I look to join Brodeur, I think about the skills clients look for in today’s digital world. The truth is, they’re not that different from years past:

Understand your client’s business. Don’t delineate online from offline. I want people who truly care and understand human behavior. This is the first step in changing perceptions of bands.

Be genuinely curious: I look for people who can help consumers find themselves in the experience. Be curious about the possibilities and have a deep respect for people and the brand.

Approach problems as critical thinkers: I need employees who are problem solvers; who are able to take disparate experiences and see patterns. This kind of problem solving is how creative ideas are born.

So when I look back at what I’ve learned, I think ahead to what will always be important qualities in any environment. Take leaps, be creative and be intuitive. Remember that the human being is at the center of the equation. Reaching that human may be easy to do with one click, but remaining in their minds will require you to take a beat, listen and read the room.

Andrea Coville is founding partner and Chief Executive Officer of Brodeur, a leading global communications consultancy.

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As CEO of Brodeur, Andy Coville oversees the US Leadership Team. She sits on Brodeur’s Global Board and serves as a consultant to clients while spearheading new business development. Formerly the president of Brodeur Worldwide, Andy worked with clients in a variety of industries, particularly in technology, health care, life sciences, and consumer markets. She has provided senior counsel for IBM, Toshiba, Philips, Starz, IKON, PerkinElmer, and Smith & Nephew.
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