Airbnb and Channel 4 on ‘staying human’

Marketers warn against jumping on the latest tech fad and instead focusing on doing something of consumer value.

Toy robot

The pace of tech innovation has presented brands with a fresh challenge as to the best way of reaching consumers.

As brands up their focus on technology, however, they risk losing their ‘human’ characteristics. Channel 4 is looking to overcome this challenge by ensuring that its brand values are emotive and come from its “unique” remit. It wants people to feel positively towards the brand, rather than being seen as simply providing a functional service.

“Our values haven’t fundamentally changed since we were set up. Our remit says we have to provide a place for the kind of voices that don’t always get heard, we have to challenge the status quo. They are emotional values – not functional,” James Walker, head of marketing at Channel 4, told Marketing Week.

And even though there are many more ways of reaching people, Walker believes consumer needs have not changed.

“Consumers still want the same things out of life. It’s important that you are making an emotional connection, and lots of ads are trying to do that. Video by its nature is emotional in terms of how it makes people think and feel,” he said.

With no physical outlets, online-only brand Airbnb has aimed to put “human” values at the heart of its business by telling authentic user-generated stories.

“We are fortunate we can humanise our comms through our hosts or the people travelling using our service. Our brand always involves human interactions, and our job is to tell these stories,” said Ben Kendall, UK marketing manager at Airbnb.

“Great brand marketing is when you tell amazing stories, as that’s what our consumers buy into. The more real and authentic, the more attached we are to that brand or product. And there’s always a story within a brand. Authentic is a buzzword that people overuse, but it’s all about being honest and true.”

Innovating for innovation’s sake

There is also the potential danger of innovating for innovation’s sake, where brands are putting technology ahead of actual consumer needs.

“So many brands jump onto the latest fad and try to pigeonhole technology into a media form. That’s exactly what consumers don’t need,” Kendall commented.

“Using technology for technology’s sake is dangerous as it might lead to people switching off.”

“Rather than wanting to win awards and gain acknowledgement from industry peers, brands should aim to do something of value to their end user and community.”

Ben Kendall, UK marketing manager, Airbnb

While it can be tempting to chase the latest technological fad, brands need to avoid rushing into anything and carefully consider whether their budgets can be better spent elsewhere.

“When I get pitched an idea, I firstly think of what else might I spend it on. While you should always reserve a bit of the budget to do something innovative, you have to have effective and robust thinking behind it,” Walker commented.

However, Walker added that technology is “getting to point where brands can innovate at scale”. For the latest series of Humans, Channel 4 created a bot in conjunction with Facebook. People could talk to the bot thinking it was purely powered by artificial intelligence, but halfway through the conversation it suddenly develops a consciousness.

“That fitted brilliantly with the show, and it wasn’t seen just by fans as we could push it out at scale. Even though it was a brilliant stunt, we still had to be careful to make sure we were investing in the right thing.”

James Walker and Ben Kendall will be speaking at creativebrief’s BITE LIVE on 9 November. And Marketing Week is an official media partner. Enter code ‘MarketingWeek40’ at checkout for an exclusive discount on tickets.

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