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In “Welcome to the Human Era,” a report probing how brands can establish lasting connections with customers, strategy and design firm Lippincott and advertising and marketing agency Hill Holliday identify Wegmans Food Markets as a “Human Era” brand – that is, a brand successful at building just such connections.
According to the report, brand building can’t be led by messaging and advertising alone anymore. Instead, it requires both “story” and “experience” to work in tandem to drive brand favorability. Among other characteristics, Human Era brand leaders have a deep cultural trait of customer empathy; talk and act like people; are open, real and even flawed; aren’t boring; care intensely about the little things; and empower individuals to be the brand
“Making an authentic connection today is a tall order, and few brands actually get beyond the messaging,” said John Marshall, senior partner and global director of strategy for New York-based Lippincott. “But when studying the leaders, what’s clear is that their success came from so much more than their ads and social media strategy; it came from their culture, their decision-making approaches, their employee behaviors and often the little things that often don't even cost that much.”
Added Graham Ritchie, EVP and chief strategy officer for Boston-based Hill Holliday: “The Human Era is about a fundamental societal shift based on the search for trust. Now is the time for companies, brands and indeed our industry to really understand this cultural shift in order to adapt and thrive or risk a decline in relevance and value.”
To learn more about standout companies, Lippincott analyzed its BrandView database of more than 1,000 global brands. The firm then developed the Human Era Index from an equal weighting of the three character traits of authenticity, empathy and vitality. The composite score is calculated on a range of one to 10, with a high of 9.4 and a low of 1.0. Public companies on the leadership list outdistanced the Dow by an average of 11 percent per year over the past four years.
Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans, which scored a 7.0 in the grocery category, is known for its broad assortment and knowledgeable and friendly employees. In fact, at this family-run grocer, 20 percent of its 40,000 employees are related.
Other top brands by industry in the Human Era Index are USAA, financial services (9.4); In-N-Out Burger, restaurants (8.3); Disney, media and entertainment (7.9); Apple, consumer electronics (7.8); Amazon.com, retail (7.5); and Virgin America and Southwest, airlines (tied at 6.9).
“We believe that being a Human Era company is more than a strategic option; it is a new and essential way of approaching business in our connected age,” observed Marshall.