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The top 5 ways to use human-to-human (H2H) marketing

human to human marketing

The funny thing about the word “human” is that humans don’t use it very much. We prefer person, people, man, women or something else. An alien from outer space (who was trying conspicuously hard to fit in) would use a word like human. But despite its apparent clunkiness, human-to-human (H2H) marketing is the best way to describe an important phenomenon in business communications.  

In this guide, we examine the shift that organizations are making from B2B marketing to H2H marketing, and why. We look at what H2H marketing is, its benefits to organizations and their customers, and 5 of the best ways to make it happen.   

What is human to human marketing (H2H)? 

Human-to-human marketing (H2H) is an approach to marketing that actively strips everything back to the simple reality that people buy from people. It encourages organizations to treat people as individual human beings rather than as ‘personas’ or other representations of customer/prospect groupings. In doing so it places significantly greater emphasis on an authentic, personalized experience. But H2H marketing is more than just a humanization of customers – it cuts both ways; enabling organizations to reveal their human qualities and promote customers’ engagement with the real people who work for them. By driving meaningful, personal one-to-one interactions at scale, these organizations can then communicate and be perceived as more human by their customers. 

This isn’t a million miles from how businesses interacted with their customers years ago. Certainly, in the pre-internet age, a common approach with business customers would have been to develop personal relationships on a one-to-one basis, and invest substantial time and money physically meeting with customers face to face. As years passed, companies found that by dropping this approach they could be significantly more efficient with their sales and marketing efforts in order to reach, attract and retain many more customers.  

Why is using human to human marketing important? 

At the same time as better, more digitally-enabled ways have emerged for how brands and customers can communicate, people have become tired of robotic, generic and overly automated marketing strategies. Instead, they expect to feel valued and served almost instantly – or they will go elsewhere. This requires a human approach that combines empathy, connection and conversation.  

Human to human marketing is designed to achieve the benefits of human interaction such as affirmation, mutual respect and trust. Machines can be highly intelligent but cannot ‘relate’ to human beings in an emotional sense. In other words, they can’t form or build relationships. This is what’s so important about human to human marketing – the ability to develop long-term relationships and a sense of customer loyalty that’s almost impossible to do any other way. 

One study found that people with an emotional connection to a brand have a 300% higher customer lifetime value, will remain loyal for 50% longer and recommend that brand at a much higher rate.   

How human to human marketing differs from business to business marketing strategies 

Human to human marketing is an evolutionary step beyond traditional B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) approaches to marketing. The H2H step brings the evolution of marketing right round again to where it started from – a kind of ‘back to the future’ progression to how organizations dealt with customers in the past, but now with the benefit of modern digital technology. 

That’s because committing to a H2H marketing approach that personalizes customer experiences and promotes one-to-one interactions requires technology to overcome the enormous difficulty and expense of doing this at scale. Many of the B2B and B2C strategies that have come before have scaled brilliantly, but typically at the cost of treating customers like numbers rather than people. 

Why is human to human marketing (H2H) so effective? 

Human to human marketing works because it’s pushing at an open door. What customer wouldn’t prefer a more human service or customer experience, or for marketing to be better suited to them as individuals and the challenges they face in work or in life? People instinctively want emotional connections and responses. They feel a need to be heard, understood, valued, accepted and – fundamentally – humanized. Marketing can be many positive things, from a source of problem-solving insight to a form of entertainment. But it can also be extremely cynical and even aggressive. The promise of human to human marketing is more appealing to customers because it centers on human-like qualities that simply must be positive and embracing in order to succeed.  

The other reason why human to human marketing is so effective is because it helps the organizations who use it stand out against competitors. Human to human marketing reveals the personality of a business and its workers too. These can be memorable experiences that profoundly affect customer perception and loyalty. 

How do you apply human-to-human marketing to existing marketing practices? 

Human to human marketing is partly a mindset shift. Among the best things you can do – at least to start with – is reframing your marketing approach to be more cognizant of customers and other stakeholders as individuals and to think about how to promote the human characteristics of your brand. Then you can start being more conversational and empathetic, and create more experiential interactions.    

Beyond that, here are 5 ways you can apply human to human marketing to your existing marketing practices. 

Be more human and stop selling all the time 

Human interactions are governed by more than just understanding, anticipating and empathizing with the other person’s perspective. Marketers who believe that’s all they have to do to succeed with ‘human to human marketing’ are missing one crucial part of the puzzle: self-awareness. Self-awareness regulates human behavior to act in certain ways at certain times.  

Imagine two people: a sales representative of an insurance company and a buyer at a business that requires insurance. If human interactions alone are going to drive any successful outcome, it’s unlikely to work if all the sales guy does is try a hard sell at every opportunity. That approach only works if everyone involved perceives it as a transaction for a commodity product based solely on price and availability. There’s no trust, no relationship, no meaningful reason to repeat the experience.  

Human to human marketing is self aware enough to go beyond merely communicating value to actually embodying value. Brands can achieve this by using marketing to: 

  • Research and identify customer problems 

  • Build and stimulate communities of customers and prospects where individuals can share their problem experiences and how they’ve addressed them 

  • Highlight and promote examples of customer success where the product/service has solved the issue 

  • Create and disseminate valuable content assets that aim to support customers and prospects in solving their problems (rather than being a thinly veiled sales pitch for the product/service) 

Tell a story with human-to-human marketing 

Another key human characteristic is the ability to communicate through the telling of stories. People instinctively understand the structure and meaning behind stories, which makes them a richer and more inviting approach than simply producing marketing content. Being on the receiving end of a well told, people-centered story invites individuals to see themselves as an active participant. And stories are more memorable too; our brains find them much easier to process than, say, a datasheet!  

It’s only really when telling stories that many marketers can break away from using corporate language and technical jargon and have their content talk like an actual person. Simpler words, engaging analogies, use of humor – all come to the surface when telling a story. Stories also enable brands to be more honest and transparent, or at least appear that way – even if that means looking a little rough around the edges. This breaks down barriers and allows brands to become refreshingly authentic. 

And, according to research, not only do most (77%) people think it’s a good idea for brands to tell stories, more than half (55%) are more likely to buy products from companies whose brand stories they love. 

Use human to human marketing with personalization and automation combined 

Scale is a huge challenge with marketing, and human to human marketing in particular. This is because attempting to provide person-specific marketing engagements and offers naturally consumes more effort per customer, potentially making it impractical even before you’ve started.  

The stakes are very high for getting this right. According to McKinsey, around three-quarters of consumers: 

  • Expect personalization 

  • Get frustrated when they don’t find it 

  • Are more likely to make repeat purchases from companies that personalize 

  • And more likely to recommend such companies to others too 

There is only one solution to this: combining personalization and automation in your approach. People like automation when it works for them. It’s when it makes them feel like a number, because of mis-targeted messages or offers, that it really grinds. 

A good example of personalization and automation working together can be found in how many companies organize chat interactions via their websites/apps using both chatbots and human agents. The chatbots can triage enquiries by allowing customers to self-serve answers from a knowledge base, and – if that fails – to escalate to a human agent. Depending on the market, customers might prefer to know the difference between machines and people or they might prefer that the distinction remains opaque – in which case you can work on making the language that your bots interpret and articulate more natural,  informal and human.  

You can apply a similar approach to social media interaction; using automated workflows to follow-back, invite or respond to social media contact, but with humans on hand to take over to optimize each personal engagement if and when required.  

Harness all the channels you own to humanize marketing 

Just like a real person will answer however you address them, so brands must be ready to engage with audiences across every conceivable communications channel. More than that – brands must be able to demonstrate a contextual understanding of each customer wherever and whenever they wish to engage. Humans can cope with this because they have memories, but companies can often struggle when customers ‘switch’ between communications channels. 

The answer lies in an omnichannel strategy, and the technology that underpins it. Omnichannel marketing empowers customers to carry on the same conversation with a brand as part of a continuous, unbroken experience, without ever having to repeat a stage of the customer journey. It demands that the brand experience is totally consistent across channels, and that omnichannel experiences are effortless – made that way by brands that understand customers want interactions to be as quick and simple as possible. 

Omnichannel is also a two-way street – enabling the brand to choose the optimum way of communicating proactively, as well as facilitating each customer’s preferred way of getting in touch. Omnichannel strategy can be leveraged further by human to human marketing by timing when communications happen for maximum context. For example, using a trigger event like a hotel guest checking out of their room to send an email asking how their stay was. Such an exercise appears thoughtful when in reality it’s another automated workflow. 

As well as covering all relevant communications channels, human to human marketing can encourage customers to communicate – indirectly – with one another. This is done by fostering, encouraging and promoting user-generated content which, in many cases, takes the form of personal stories that also serve as authoritative third-party validation for the brand concerned. 

Leverage email signatures for human to human marketing 

Trying to maintain brand consistency across communications channels can be difficult – not least when some organizations are guilty of favoring some channels over others or overlooking certain channels altogether. 

One such communications channel is email signatures, which also happens to be one of the most significant, valuable and highly trusted of all channels – especially in B2B. 

Some marketing emails are read – all customers read business email 

One-to-one business email (distinct from one-to-many marketing emails) is personal correspondence; about as personal as business communications get, short of meeting face-to-face. Email signatures are the last thing that recipients of such emails see, and each is an opportunity to imprint the brand and promote important calls to action, as well as provide key contact data. 

More and more marketers are consciously adopting email signatures as a channel to harness when delivering more personalized, human brand interactions. Business email is highly trusted and invariably read, making the ‘real estate’ of the humble email signature an extremely valuable marketing property. 

Consider how you can utilize the email signatures of all company employees to ensure consistency of brand experience, and to extend personalization to narrowly segmented audience groups. For example: 

  • Incorporating consistent branding and brand messaging into email signatures across the organization. Ensure that every employee’s signature carries only the latest version of the brand logos or logos, and that none are incorrectly sized, shaped or rendered. All should be tested to appear perfectly, regardless of the device, screen size or email client used by the recipient or sender.

      

  • Capitalizing on the space available within the email signature footer area to publish trackable marketing banners, promotions and calls to action with links to supporting campaign content and forms. 

  • Applying personalization data to present different email signature campaigns to different groups of email recipients according to who is sending (and who is receiving) the business emails. 

  • Inserting additional functionality into email signatures such as maps, appointment scheduling buttons, and customer feedback survey icons in order to facilitate the most human possible experience and collect fresh customer insights data with which to learn from and continuously improve marketing approach.   

Key takeaways

Humanizing your marketing is an effective way to reach your customers and attract new ones. The human-to-human (H2H) marketing approach can help you stand out from competitors, differentiate yourself from the crowd, and grab attention by connecting with people on a personal level.

Human-to-human marketing helps ensure that your company's content always resonates with your audience by being relatable and personable. This way, when potential customers see an ad campaign, read a blog post, or see a video on social media that talks to them at a human level, they are more likely to engage with the brand.

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