The Beating Heart of Human-to-Human Marketing

Kevin Ott Editor Writer for Rocking God's HouseIn a recent Hubspot article called Human-to-Human Marketing: A Trend for 2015 and Beyond, the writer begins with a scene: you walk into a coffee shop, and then you stop dead in your tracks. Your jaw hangs open. Robots, instead of people, are making and serving the coffee. And these machines, as they hum and whir along, deliver the drinks with a cold, emotionless utility.

In fact (and this is now my imagination working; I’ve left the Hubspot scene), the robots express a veiled disdain for you. At the cashier, the robot looks at you and says in a snarky tone, after you refuse to give the robot a tip, “I think I will put you in a people zoo.”

Before you roll your eyes too quickly at the idea of robots tending to a people zoo, an AI robot actually told a reporter that recently.

But the idea of a people zoo shouldn’t be too shocking, frankly, because companies create people zoos all the time. When marketing departments reduce people to numbers and little colored sections on a demographic pie chart, that cold impersonal attitude often transfers all the way down the line to the customer level.

The tide is changing, however, as Hubspot noted. It’s time for a human-to-human marketing revolution.

The Loveworks Masterpiece

We don’t have to look to some new, trendy marketing buzzword to start this revolution. Plenty of marketing geniuses have already written books about it. We just have to re-discover it and apply it fresh to our moment.

Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts, for example, had a revelation one day that there should be a love affair between brands and customers. Any such love affair would and should be anti-venom to the people zoo approach.

Roberts gathered mountains of data to back up his intuition, and he put it all into two monumental marketing books, “Lovemarks” and “Loveworks.” The latter one, “Loveworks,” in which he looks at real-life examples of companies creating this “love affair,” might be my favorite marketing book ever written. I read it like reading a favorite novel.

In “Loveworks,” Roberts says something profound:

…we must realize that brands don’t just get it [the love affair connection with the customer] by asking. They start by giving love, demonstrating that they love the people who buy them. The sea change comes when brands stop thinking about their customers as “them” and start thinking about “us.” When marketers make this change, they start rewarding their customers every day with brand experiences that have special resonance in three key areas: mystery, sensuality, and intimacy. (Roberts, 17)

And one of the best examples in the book comes from a massive marketing campaign in Africa. It was a Herculean effort by (oddly enough) the beer company Guinness, to understand and love the people of Nigeria in an authentic way.

Creating Myths and Icons for a Nation

One of the ways that a company taps into this love affair with its customers can be summed up in one word: mystery. And by mystery, Roberts is referring to the mystery of the customer and their culture, not the company’s mystery. The company and its product is a footnote.

Roberts uses five specific points to define “Mystery”:

“Great Stories”

“Past, Present, and Future”

“Tapping Into Dreams”

“Myths and Icons”


The Guinness campaign started in 1998. It was a bad time for Nigeria. The average income was terribly low. Men couldn’t provide for their families, and in the Nigerian culture, this was devastating for them. In addition, the Nigerian culture had very few male cultural icons. In other words, the country-wide morale of the male population was at an all-time low.

This is how Guinness set itself apart from other companies. It did not analyze charts and reports and make assumptions about Nigeria from the safe distance of their desks. They went to Nigeria and observed. They saw how the culture was hurting.

Ultimately, Guinness decided to make something that would boost the self-image of Nigerian men by putting forth two messages in their campaigns:

  1. Greatness does indeed exist in Africa and in African men.
  2. But Africa’s culture, and the men of Africa, need to believe in that greatness.

And Guinness decided to remind them of that greatness. For a commercial campaign, they highlighted the life of a real person: an African man who became known, simply, as Udeme. And they used Hollywood caliber, Oscar-deserving production value when they wrote the commercials and shot them.

What did Udeme do?

During Nigeria’s toughest times, he worked hard to get a pilot’s license. Such a license was extremely difficult to get in that part of Africa. And then, if that wasn’t enough, Udeme managed to get his own plane, and he used his good fortunate to fly critical supplies to places in Nigeria that had no access to life-saving goods.

Udeme became a national icon.

In one scene, we see Udeme flying back to his village. He gets out, and he’s tired from a long day of helping the people of Nigeria. He sits down with some friends and holds a Guinness in his hand. He lifts the bottle to the sky like a toast and says, “Let the beer see the sky, but not for too long.”

The campaign was so impacting that, according to “Loveworks,” the name “Udeme” became the unofficial nickname for Guinness in Nigeria. That’s what everyone called it when they ordered it. And the phrase, “Let the beer see the sky,” became a phrase that people used when they made a toast. I confirmed all of this when I met someone from Nigeria. I asked if these things were really true, and my Nigerian friend confirmed all of it.

An Epic Example of Human-to-Human Marketing

Yes, the example above is grandiose, but the principles are golden and applicable in any situation. Treat people like humans, not a means to your profitable end. Guinness did this by taking the time to go to where their customers lived, by observing their lives and their problems, and then speaking to those problems and real-life conditions with respect, passion, and skill.

And that formula, in the end, is the beating heart of all human-to-human marketing, no matter how small.