To humanize your content, take risks. Just ask Duolingo

We’ve all come across a brands social content while scrolling that just feels robotic, distant, and borderline nonhuman.

We’re living in the raw, unedited #nofilter days of social media where content creators and users alike want to feel connected to the content on their screens—especially if they’re being sold something. It’s a delicate dance for brands that want to maintain a favorable image while being a just a little #relatable.

But the days of omnipresent and untouchable, larger-than-life brands are over. People want messy, and funny, and a little bit weird. They want human.

Duolingo, Wendy’s, even The Wall Street Journal have humanized their brands by creating an online presence that people can relate to. Albeit a little unhinged at times, the strategy has been a huge success and carries lessons that any brand can apply across their marketing strategies.

Humanizing your brand

The idea of humanizing your brand to make it more personable to audiences is nothing new, but it has found newfound methods in the digital age. Audiences can pick up inauthenticity a mile away and while in the past people had relationships with a brand, in the onset of the digital age brands are the relationship. By defining your brand’s relationship, companies can create greater loyalty and engagement.

Brands that have been able to create a more collaborative and reciprocal online presence have successfully moved away from mere transactional and one-directional relationships. You don’t own your company brand, your customers do; instead of focusing on brand attributes, the focus shifts to the relationships people have with the brand.

Take language learning app Duo Lingo’s antics on TikTok, which have mastered the art of entertaining audiences instead of selling to them. Leaning into the mascot’s threatening “do-your-lesson-or-else” persona, common confusion among the Duolingo owl and pop singer Dua Lipa and embracing the brand’s overall perception has paid off – the brand’s TikTok alone has amassed 4.7 million followers and nearly 95 million likes.

It would be remiss to not mention the Wendy’s Twitter strategy that set the tone for how many brands, including Duo Lingo, interact with followers on social media today – or as some would say, “Wendy’s Twitter walked so Duo’s TikTok could fly” (yes, this was an actual comment on Duo Lingo’s TikTok). Wanting to have a likable and sassy brand persona that also showcased that the brand was fresh (#freshneverfrozen), Wendy’s did just that with their roasts and replies that many people know and love today because of their authenticity.

Branding is a set of techniques designed to generate cultural relevance, thus brands succeed when they break through in culture. In humanizing a brand, cultural relevance can be sustained by playing off particularly intriguing issues that dominate the media discourse and target crowd culture instead of chasing generic trends.

One size doesn’t fit all

Not all brands may be right for TikTok, but humanizing a brand goes far beyond one social media platform. Cultivating a brand personality comes down to meaningful and memorable connections with your target audience.

Ikea, for instance, has excelled at this and is no stranger to tapping into viral social media events and relevant trends. When Bernie Sanders became one of the 2020’s first memes, Ikea quickly jumped on the opportunity and encouraged customers to “get the look” with its fold-up seats and mittens. Among other humorous examples, Ikea made light of the record-breaking $450 million sale of a Leonardo Da Vinci Salvatore Mundi painting by depicting it hung in a $9.99 frame. Ikea’s responsive marketing approach has also led to an instructional sheet spoof on how to build castles and cushion forts during the pandemic – a much needed form of entertainment avenue for children and parents alike that perfectly brought Ikea’s brand attributes to life.

More traditional marketing mediums, such as email, are also transformable. The brand Wool and the Gang, a retailer that creates knitting kits for consumers to create their own clothing or art pieces, excels at understanding their audience. Inserting playful email headlines and making use of gifs to imitate an iMessage format, easily recognizable by their target customers, are amongst a few of the tactics the brand has used to become more relatable and engaging.

Tying it back to your audience

While it is possible to humanize your brand through multiple mediums, it is impossible to create sincere and deep connections with your audience if you don’t know them well. Showing more of a human side means understanding how your customers interact with your brand and what messages they find most relevant. We know consumers crave personalization, but often can be difficult to execute.

The biggest piece of the puzzle that's missing is identity resolution, which offers brands a foundational understanding of who their customers are and recognizes them across devices. This tailors messaging, frequency and builds stronger consumer profiles.

Epsilon PeopleCloud lets brands connect billions of online and offline intent signals, all of which narrow down what each person wants. Using pseudonymized, persistent IDs, brands can craft personalized marketing through powerful AI that has better outcomes for both the consumer and the brand.

If people want humanized brands, they deserve real conversations. Epsilon can help your brand resonate with your audiences by talking to them in an authentic way in the channels that matter to them most – whether through social, email or anything in between.