November 25, 2019 By IBM Consulting 4 min read

Deepening and creating a relevant human connection with consumers has become one of the top marketing industry trends and priorities. Technology has empowered consumers and increased their expectations for a superior customer experience across multiple platforms. This shift has made understanding people on deeply personal, emotional and cultural levels essential for marketers trying to break through the clutter and deliver frictionless, authentic experiences.

More critically to the business, connecting with people on a human level is paramount to increasing revenue and driving long-term growth. Quite frankly, consumers now expect all their experiences to be personalized to their unique needs and desires.  The marketer that understands this connection in a real and authentic manner will build the kind of enduring loyalty that brings customers back for more — and the brand value that will continue to attract new customers.

Making connections, forming bonds

Forming lasting bonds with customers requires a depth of understanding about your consumer and demands marketers communicate by:

  • Using human language to tap into emotions
  • Showing that they genuinely care and willing to listen
  • Being open and transparent
  • Engaging in entertaining ways, ways the consumer values
  • Responding in real time, weaving in cultural moments, happenings, icons and personalities

Procter & Gamble, for example, is focusing on fostering one-to-one relationships with its customers — but on a mass scale. The consumer goods giant is analyzing data at the behavioral level and using artificial intelligence to identify behavior-driven audience patterns. This helps Procter & Gamble create behaviorally-based microsegments versus the typical media-buying audience — people ages 25 to 54.   Smart targeting has boosted the company’s revenue by 20 percent, they said.

Another way marketers are connecting with people on a human level is by emphasizing inclusion and diversity. Among the companies demonstrating their commitment to inclusiveness is retail giant Target, which sells clothes and Halloween costumes for children with disabilities. There’s also fast-food chain Dunkin’, which recently unveiled an everyday value menu in its Chicago-area stores aimed at serving lower-income customers.

“Marketing is uniquely positioned to shape how people think and should use that position to create positive change,” Shelley Zalis, chief executive and founder of The Female Quotient, a startup dedicated to advancing gender equality in the workplace, writes in AdAge. “It’s not just about making sure ad campaigns feature different races, genders and ages; it’s about making sure that different kinds of people are portrayed in a fair, accurate and realistic way.”

This year, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) launched the #SeeAll initiative to support inclusivity. At the most recent ANA Masters of Marketing conference, business consultant and author Rishad Tobaccowala challenged attendees to build teams whose members are diverse in viewpoint, not just color and ethnicity.

Telling stories, delivering experiences

Brands that create frictionless, personalized experiences can boost loyalty and lifetime value far more effectively than those that concentrate solely on transactional behavior. Being successfully consumer-centric means focusing on long-term lifetime value, not short-term temporary sales, and this strategy better positions brands for growth.

Given that most of our decisions are made with our hearts instead of our heads, it’s important to connect with customers in new and engaging ways that go beyond mere transactions to create memorable experiences.

Delivering authentic experiences starts with having the right data. This means going beyond operational data from sources such as sales, manufacturing and the supply chain — the key is to gather insights through emotion analytics and sentiment analysis, from sources like product reviews, service ratings, interactions with customer support, survey responses, social media posts, likes, dislikes and more. Data that provides a glimpse into people’s feelings, fears and desires is the foundation upon which brands can build stories and refine consumer experiences.  It’s the blending of big data with human empathy.  PepsiCo calls this new approach to consumer insights Human Science whereby scaled data on a quantitative level is married to the depth of stories on a truly human level.

To connect on a human level, stories need to be compelling. They must incorporate distinct, culturally relevant ideas, and they need to leverage emotion through humor, sentiment or music. Many brand story campaigns have succeeded in reaching audiences on a human level. Here are three examples and the fundamental storytelling element each uses to connect with people.


Procter & Gamble’s Tide Sunday Wash Night series with Peyton Manning connects with viewers through laughter and shared experiences: a dreaded chore — laundry — and a love of NFL football. These Tide commercials work because they’re funny, and because Peyton Manning — despite being a famous athlete — has a “regular guy” vibe about him. In this commercial, not only is Manning talking about laundry, but he’s also in a supermarket. You can’t get much more regular than that, which is why these entertaining commercials resonate with viewers (who even might be watching them while doing their laundry).


British footwear and eyewear retailer TOMS engages consumers on an emotional level through its own origin story — in which founder Blake Mycoskie was inspired to start a company that “would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes for a child in need.” The brand deepens this connection by offering consumers a chance to help young people around the world. TOMS has expanded its One for One program to include sunglasses, and for every pair purchased, the company helps restore a vision-impaired person’s sight. By offering a partnership based on human compassion and the desire to assist others, TOMS not only fulfills a strong emotional need — it gives customers a role in the company’s story.


Nike’s “Just Do It” commercial with Colin Kaepernick may be a year old, but it is timeless in its delivery of a profound and relevant message about pursuing your dreams in the face of adversity. While Kaepernick remains a divisive figure to many people, this commercial barely alludes to the former NFL quarterback kneeling on the sideline during the national anthem. Instead, it focuses on regular — and often challenged — people aspiring to greatness and fully believing in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. This is a powerful message to connect with Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan.

Compelling storytelling can also use surprise and delight to keep consumers entertained and engaged. Brands can use these tactics to meet consumer needs in new and different ways. For example, every time an on-air announcer said the word “free” during the NBA Finals, Chipotle offered free burritos to the first 100 people who followed the Mexican restaurant chain on Twitter and texted an alphanumeric code to a hotline. The promotion garnered the brand more than 1 billion impressions.

As consumers demand personalized experiences, marketers must leverage the tools and tactics that connect them to customers on a human level to build lasting relationships and strong brand loyalty. In doing so, they’ll create a foundation for robust business growth.

Learn how IBM iX can help you unlock your next-generation customer experience strategy

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