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  • Marlee John

The Human Brand: Where Relationship is Essential and Trust is the Cornerstone

I hate shopping. Well, that’s not entirely true. I like nice things but I hate the shopping part, I always have. Flipping through sales racks at the mall, weaving my way through crowds, and feeling awkward trying on clothes that don’t fit right has never been my idea of a good time. As a teenager I remember walking through the mall past the stores geared towards my age and seeing perfect-looking models who looked nothing like me. It was… uncomfortable. The models always looked so different in the clothes than I did. Whenever I tried on clothes at the mall I always felt too short, too boxy, too dark-skinned.

The summer before senior year, I needed some items for school so I looked online at some stores for some ideas of where to go. I went to American Eagle’s website and somehow landed on their sister brand’s site: Aerie. The landing page had a photo of group of girls of all different sizes, shapes and colours who looked like they could easily be my classmates. They laughing amongst each other and below them was a hashtag #AerieREAL. As I looked through their online catalogue, I saw stretch marks, cellulite and even some models with disabilities. It felt more than just relatable, it felt like real people wearing the clothes, not mannequins. Their statement said “Power. Positivity. No Retouching” and as someone who struggled with severe eczema growing up, it was the first time I felt like I didn’t have to hide my scars. I felt seen.

We Don’t like to be Forgotten

No one likes to feel like they’re not heard, like they’re not seen. Several years ago there was an uproar about the heavy editing of social media posts and fashion magazines and how it promoted unrealistic standards of perfection for young people. My generation felt hidden in their imperfections. Recently companies have been making push towards embracing who we are instead of hiding. #AerieREAL was definitely inspired by this movement, and they were and still are successful. Why? Well we live in an age where no matter where you turn, someone is trying to sell you something. So, most people want the brands they support to reflect their own core values. At a time when consumers make more informed choices about their purchases, and employ more consumer-focused marketing strategies, what is it about certain brands that stand out in comparison to others? Their humanity.

What does it mean for a brand to be “human” and why is it important? How can a brand tap into this idea of humanness to serve people better?

What is our “humanness”?

In a world and a culture which often highlights our differences— dividing us along the lines of race, class, gender and creed— what connects us? Simply put, what unifies us is our need for relationship. We all need— not just want— relationship. As social creatures (yes, this applies to us introverts as well) we need to know that we are seen, heard and acknowledged by other people.

The Human Brand

For a brand to be human and real to people, members of the organization should recognize the brand as a living entity capable of fostering relationships and impacting the lives of real people. In a conversation with our founder, Don Marino, he stated that “a brand is a living thing. It builds loyalty and trust if treated properly.”

Trust is vital. If relationship is like our engine then trust is the fuel. The level of trust determines the success and longevity of a relationship.

The same can be said of our relationship with brands. We love certain brands because we know that we can trust them to stay true to the core of who they are. We trust their quality, values and support. Most of all, our trust is built by a brand’s consistency. We know exactly what we’re getting into when we enter business with them from the customer service sector to the product itself.

People respond to values so having a recognizable set of core values, and sticking to them is essential. Doing this works at building trust with both existing and potential customers. So does being consistent, transparent and honest. Humans aren’t perfect; humans make mistakes. As the popular saying goes “I’m only human”. If a brand makes a mistake it’s better to be upfront and apologize than to try to cover it up. People can see through pretence. Telling the stories of the target audience and how the brand helps them encourages people to trust brands to advocate for them. It helps people feel seen.

I am the face of Aerie. My neighbours, my school friends, the girls I grew up with. Aerie is looking to all women, but mainly young women who are trying to unlearn warped beauty standards and embrace that imperfection is beautiful.

For a brand to be human, let’s first recognize that humans are the heartbeat of a brand. We are not just consumers, we are not customers, we are not just employees but we are real people with real needs. Let’s shift the focus from just what can we sell you, but how can we help you?

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