6 Ways Brands Are Leveraging Human-to-Human Marketing in 2021

After nearly two years of social distancing and working from home, consumers are looking for opportunities to connect with loved ones and neighbors. The current moment has created a new opening for brands that invest in human-to-human marketing, a technique that leverages technology to recruit local ambassadors who can market products at scale in their own communities. 

The ultimate goal with human-to-human marketing is to tap into consumers’ emotions by using real people to engage potential customers. Advancements in technology, and growth in the gig economy, have made human-to-human marketing a more realistic—and affordable—option for brands this year. As the holidays draw closer and brands rethink how they’ll connect with targeted consumers in the coming months, this is a strategy more brands are considering. 

Here are six ways brands are leveraging human-to-human marketing for local growth in 2021.

1. Tapping Influencers for New Store Openings

Launching a store in a new market is a challenge in the best of times, but especially so in the midst of a pandemic. With fewer consumers leaving their homes and trying new store locations, traditional digital marketing tactics are becoming less effective. Tapping local ambassadors, a brand can create community buzz before the opening of a new store location. The opportunities with local ambassadors are endless, depending on each ambassador’s skillset. For example, local ambassadors could be asked to post about a new store location on neighborhood apps like Nextdoor or they might tap their own local followers on a larger platform like Twitter or Facebook. Any buzz the local ambassador generates should be followed up with an awareness campaign that uses more traditional channels, like targeted social media advertising and mailed circulars.

2. Using Ambassadors as Walking Billboards

Brands like Lululemon have been pioneers in the human-to-human marketing space. For years, Lululemon has run an ambassador program that the brand leverages to connect with audiences in targeted communities. Lululemon’s ambassadors serve as walking billboards. They’re often invited to test out new products, participate in VIP experiences, and network at private events sponsored by the company. In exchange, Lululemon asks its ambassadors to share their love of the brand on social media and with the people in their own personal circles, including their own students and members of local fitness groups.

3. Featuring Employees in Advertising

When Southwest Airlines brought in Lippincott for a brand makeover, one of the first things the agency did was to launch an advertising campaign that featured the airline’s actual employees. The decision was about more than just 30-second television ad spots. It was about using the airline’s greatest asset—its people—to connect with audiences and build a more emotional connection between the public and the Southwest Airlines brand. If one of the primary goals of human-to-human marketing is to humanize a brand, then inviting the company’s own employees to participate in on-air advertising spots is a strategy that hits the right notes.

4. Combining Humans with Bots

Human-to-human campaigns and technology can go hand-in-hand. One example of this involves the use of chatbots. While customer service chatbots are saving brands millions, they also have the tendency to frustrate consumers who can’t get the answers they’re looking for. Some brands are combining humans with automation as a targeted marketing approach. For example, employing real life customer service agents who work during traditional office hours, and having chatbots fill-in to provide post-sales support during nights and weekends. This strategy ensures that humans are still advocating for the company as part of a broad marketing push, while chatbots reduce the workload and fill in when necessary. 

5. Delivering Authentic Stories to Customers

There’s something about interactions that happen in person that just feels more authentic than those that happen online. National brands with local storefronts are leveraging the power of local sales associates to educate their customers about what their companies stand for. Many sales associates have already done the hard work of establishing relationships with local customers and with other people in their communities. Asking these associates to share the authentic story behind the companies they represent—and in some cases, incentivizing these employees when customers complete certain actions, like signing up for loyalty programs—is a creative and effective way to create deeper emotional connections between a brand and the customers it serves.

6. Quickly Executing Street Campaigns

Street marketing is one of the oldest forms of guerilla marketing. With labor shortages at an all-time high, more brands are bringing on outside groups to execute street marketing campaigns. The goal of these campaigns is to build awareness through human-to-human interactions. B2B businesses can also use this as an opportunity to build awareness with local merchants, by sending street teams into stores in the neighborhoods they are serving. This type of human-to-human campaign builds a connection between brands and local merchants.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

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