The Rundown: Human-centered Marketing in a Digital Age

There's been a huge rise in "human" language in UX and UI design and marketing copy, especially when it comes to businesses wanting to be hip, modern, and fun. Wait, did I just say the word hip? I guess my millennial side is showing.

We’ll cover design, writing, and social media strategy in this article as they all, in some way, contribute to a brand or businesses overall marketing strategy. Whether it’s grass-roots or big budget campaigns, most businesses have these four things as part of their marketing suite.

  • A blog with written, informative content related to their products or services and business achievements which aligns with the brand “voice”.

  • A Website with services, work examples, products or, in the case of SaaS, a full application interface as a visual engagement and communication tool.

  • An inbound sales email address with a custom domain, which is the first point of contact with a real human.

  • A social media channel; Facebook, Instagram, or Youtube, all of which work to engage with real people alongside all of the above.

This humanisation of digital content is a trend I’m personally loving, to be honest. We recently covered a bit about why it’s okay to be a normal person on social media, and I’m also a huge personal advocate for organic networking and authentic communication. I hate small talk about as much as I hate blogs that exist purely to service a sales funnel.

Digital Marketing is all going towards humanisation, with influencers and user generated content becoming prolific ways brands can leverage “real” social selling, alongside a need for brands to be contactable 24/7 via messenger chatbots. This change has been happening for some time and is evident in everything from User Experience and Interface design to the humble email domain.

So how do you balance being human with all these changing algorithms and trends, and of course, keep your professional perception as a business?

What effect has this personalisation and humanisation of digital marketing had on how business owners create marketing strategies and visual communication such as website design, blogs, or application UI, in a way both humans and computers can both understand optimally?


BLOGGING FOR PEOPLE AND MACHINES

With the exception of automated content generators, which we would not recommend for the reasons detailed in this article I wrote about SEO keywords, most successful blogs are written by a person for a person. So why is it then that some people seem to insist on writing like it’s the keyword-stuffing olympics and they’re going for gold?

Is it the fear of not ranking high enough on Google?

Do they think that by talking like an average Joe, they’ll look less professional or lose their standing as an expert in their feild?

Despite some of my writing coming across rant-like or containing more references to myself than Trent Reznor (Pretty Hate Machine contains a whopping 19.1% personal pronouns as noted in Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music), a fair bit of editing, procrastination, and perfectionism goes into crafting a blog post that doesn’t read like computer generated content or self-indulgent rambling that also contains an adequate number of keywords to help the blog get found online by the right people. Creating SEO-friendly and engaging business writing is an artform.

Gone are the days when being a faceless, lifeless entity speaking like you’re addressing this strange, computer overlord known as the “world wide web” we all thought the internet was 20 years ago, actually worked, rather than speaking directly to your reader; a person.

The best advice I have heard about successfully writing great business content is from Seth Godin in one of his blog posts from 2015, The simple way to get better at business writing.

Write like you talk instead.

”BUT WHAT ABOUT SEO!!” I hear every digital marketer scream, as they run every blog through tools to check keyword saturation, reading patterns, and anxiously wait for Grammarly to tell them what synonyms to use…

Fuck the SEO.

Writing business blogs means you ultimately do need to pay attention to what the algorithm will pick up, but if you’re choosing relevant topics, you should be fine to put it in the back of your mind because it’s better to wing it than to over-edit afterwards or, even worse, write a blog that sounds forced and sterile.

If you had to pick up a thesaurus to write it, it probably sucks. Read it out loud. Does it flow like a conversation or is is jarring like formal process documentation?

When was the last time you really said the word “utilise” instead of “use” when you were chatting to a workmate?

How comfortable would you feel using that new, fancy word you just learnt in a real life situation?

How would you answer this question if someone asked you in real life.
There’s a simpler way to incorporate human-centered communication into your business writing by writing how you speak. It may seem like backwards advice, but the less you focus on making it SEO friendly or professional and the more you think about the person reading it as well as the message you want to convey to them, the more you will naturally use more unique yet related words.

As you approach your writing as a communication piece, not just a marketing tool, you’ll naturally begin to reiterate the key points in a more colourful, natural fashion as you explain things.

There’s your keyword density, there’s your SEO friendly synonyms, and there’s your reaffirmation of expertise.

Think of it like charades; the other person has no idea what you’re communicating initially, but you have the bigger picture and your only task is to get that exact point across to them (or the search engine) using a variety of subtle nuances, without diluting the point entirely or literally saying what it is out loud, or, in the case of SEO, repeating the same word over and over.

This analogy isn’t just applicable to writing. UX and UI fields have skyrocketed in desirability since psychologist Don Norman joined Apple in the 90’s and coined the term “User Experience”. Instead of interfaces being purely functional and literal, or just pretty graphics with no message, they now need to be a visual communication tool that bridges the gap between performing a function the computer understands and engaging the consumer on a human level. As it turns out (surprise surprise), most people don’t just push buttons for the sake of it. They need to understand why they’re doing something in about one to three words.

HUMAN CENTERED DESIGN THINKING

An easy way to notice this in action is to look at the humble “Error: 404” pages evolution. This article has some great examples. Designers aren’t using generic, technical redirect pages, or generic robotic buttons anymore. Instead you’ll see "Sorry, what you're looking for isn't here anymore” or a fun graphic animation on the landing page if a site can’t load, rather than "Error: This Page Is Unavailable," which is a clear indicator of how we’ve humanised web design and copy down to the smallest detail.

Designers recognised that this wasn’t just a page that could tell people something had gone wrong on a technical level, but a way that they could further ingrain the personality of their brand into the design and retain the users attention, instruct them on what to do next, and make it seem like they were genuinely sorry that the page wasn’t there.

As humans, we respond emotionally to computers (weird, I know, but we do) so instead of being mad at this error page, most of us would be a little more understanding if the error page was friendly or helpful, as it appeals to human empathy and stops you from wanting to throw your laptop out the window..

Outside of Web and UX design, marketers have been doing it, too. Just take a second to notice the rise in "fun" call-to-action words like "Let's go!" rather than a generic and formal "Submit" button on email collection forms and landing pages. Brand strategy now includes a “voice,” which can extend into email domains like hello@brandname.com or, my personal favorite on a business card I was handed recently; alpha@wolfpack.com.au.

ENGAGEMENT AND GENUINE SOCIAL INFLUENCE

It used to be that instagram influencers had to have a perfect feed - flawless and unrealistic - and brands had to be polished all the time, but marketing teams in both big companies and small businesses are embracing their sense of humour and realness to engage their audiences, and it’s working.

This is likely due to the fact that as consumers, we all became smarter and started to see past the thin veil of perfection that attempts to influence us, but also because the younger generation expects personalised digital experiences far more than any before it, where social media is expected to reflect reality - albeit, a slightly more polished, grander reality - but reality none the less.

They expect their brands and celebrities to be actually be on other end of their media channel, not the head of marketing. They expect brand ambassadors to actually use the products themselves despite being influencers who are literally paid to influence. There’s still more expectation of accountability there than ever before.

You used to be able to pay Delta Goodrem a few mil and guarantee sales of shampoo, now you need an army of mid-level socialites with real friends and curated feeds of places and products they actually experienced, as your brand ambassadors.

Due to this, social media algorithms are rewarding businesses for engagement over superficial statistics more than ever. I mean, we all saw the meltdowns when Instagram removed likes right?

That’s because everything is about engagement and authenticity, and the social media giants already know this.

Engagement is real and human. This is why writing like a human actually works and why algorithms are now being geared to recognise “realness”.

Instagram is now rewarding “saves” over “likes” to prove that fleeting interest vs longstanding valuable content is the way forward.

Multi-billion dollar companies are no longer clueless to the memes of 4chan and influencers aren’t afraid to get real (and no, we’re not talking about a fake #nomakeup selfie post, but actual, real life content.)

Look at Twitter. Billionaires and celebrities have no shame anymore, it’s all there out in the open, and similarly, you can pretty much find the email of any reputable journalist on there, plus a live feed of Elon Musk’s favorite memes.

As someone who has flashbacks to the dial-up sound every time my NBN dies, I guess I am on the cusp of the digital and social revolution in many ways and still like to at least try and feign the appearance of a private vs online life, while still being as involved and verbal in my business personally as I can. I’ll admit, though, that the line nowdays is incredibly blurred in both the personal and business use of social media.

I’ve had creepy dudes hit me up on LinkedIn (WHY?!) and I’ve got clients on my Facebook. Some clients even said “congrats” when they saw my engagement relationship change recently, because this is how the world communicates now.

I say this as social proof of this in action. A lot of personal ancedotes end up in my writing because, well, people seem to relate more to it. It statistically performs better than some copy and paste article.

From seeing Geocities sites and Myspace’s primitive beginnings, using MSN and AOL, to living in a world where digital marketing and social networking rules supreme, it’s interesting to reflect on how things such as blogging, chatting with friends, sharing your life or products, and the humble blog post have evolved; not to mention my own writing.

Despite the fact my first Livejournal blog was designed pretty much in the same colour scheme; dark greys and rainbow pastels (which was a subconcious accident when I rebranded this business, but let’s pretend it was for nostalgia’s sake), the content difference then compared to now is huge. And not only because I was 15 and had no fucking idea what I was doing, but the way people used blog platforms, forums, and writing was and is so different now.

Make your writing style and content plan more human, your audience and algorithms will thank you!