How Startups Can Take a Human-first Approach to Business

Human-first Approach

Why it’s crucial to build a business that puts people first and how to do it.

At its core, all businesses—regardless of size, industry, or location—are groups of people working together towards a goal. Similarly, ‘consumers’, ‘users’, ‘buyers’, or any other way that a business identifies its target audience, are also people. Every person that makes up these groups has individual attributes and unique needs, and at the same time, shares the universality of a human experience and connection.

It’s easy for businesses to erase the individuality of their audiences by categorizing them into groups. As companies grow and scale, it’s undoubtedly practical to organize and segment audiences by similarities. This allows for broader, more generalized outreach that can save time over highly personalized content via which they could connect more intimately with customers.

However, this also means that early-stage companies on a mission to capture market opportunities can often overlook humanizing their brand by focusing only on striving for metrics that prove the company’s value.

What’s easy to forget is that at every stage of business growth, the people involved (leaders, employees, investors, customers, and so on) are all using their natural human senses to learn, evaluate, and make decisions. People, for instance, do not stop being people just because they are in a professional setting. Everyone relies on seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, and smelling to make sense of what’s in front of them and come to a conclusion. After all, our senses are our essential toolkit to interpret the world. People will always want to connect sensorially, and no digital revolution will change that.

Therefore, businesses of all kinds must never forget that a brand is essentially human. In this regard, younger companies have an advantage because they are not held back by legacy and possibly outdated understanding of their form and function – ‘who they are’ and ‘what they do.’  By contrast, it is more challenging for older and more established brands to dive deep into what would really move their audiences and shift perceptions.

Early-stage companies can build a human-centric approach from the beginning and strive to give their audiences truly ‘sensorial experiences’ that consider all the things that people—and people and companies—have in common.

This is a critical thing to remember when striving for business success. Because, appealing to people’s senses brings about a level of engagement that goes far beyond standalone, static, two-dimensional messages, like individual social media posts or digital interactions. Brands should strive to evoke from their audiences the same kind of energy they get from watching a gripping theatre performance, listening to a beautiful piece of music, or looking at art.

So how does a growing company achieve this when it has so much to take care of as they get off the ground? How can young organizations instill an approach and mindset of appealing to the human senses while balancing other business priorities?

The first step is to think about all the ways your stakeholders, both internal and external, experience your product or service. Where and how do they use it and what needs are they fulfilling? With these insights, you can think about the different ways you can reach them via their senses.

One way to do this is via sensorial brand experiences. For example, at Motion, we work with brands such as Aesop, which connect with their customers through mixed media exhibitions that showcase art films, textures, scents, sights, and sounds to feature their luxurious products.

However, at the moment, physical events are limited in scope due to pandemic restrictions, and for small companies, it may be costly. Nevertheless, younger brands can still think about bespoke sensorial experiences via alternative platforms.

For example, think carefully about the imagery you use and what music you play, rather than simply choosing from stock catalogs. Technology is, of course, a powerful tool here. But, even when connecting to people virtually, is there a way you can bring alive your brand by letting them experience it in their homes through tasting and touching your products? Can you offer them a way to make the interaction sensorial rather than just digital and two-dimensional, perhaps through a more interactive platform online and offline?

The key to success here is, of course, to maintain this so that you can keep your brand at the top of customers’ minds. Any experience you offer to your customers and stakeholders should be part of a deeper narrative that keeps people engaged for the long term, much like an epic story unfolding – it doesn’t end at the curtain call.

Doing this means having channels that allow for frequent two-way communication with customers, allowing them to respond to your call to action, and keeping up with consumer behavior trends and the science that drives them to act in certain ways. These same guidelines also apply to other audiences, such as employees or investors, in both B2C and B2B settings.

The critical thing to remember is that people are human beings at every moment, irrespective of the level of formality, connection, or channel of engagement. Considering both their and your shared human characteristics can lead to significant, meaningful, and impactful results, positioning your company as something more than just a business.

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Juliana is the Founder and CEO of Motion where she leads a team to develop sensorial experiences for brands such as Hilton, Johnson & Johnson, and Aesop to help them better connect with their most critical stakeholders. Juliana spent many years involved in theatre, learning the ropes backstage to bring magical performances to life. Her love of production led her to focus on creating events and experiences that invoke the same wonder in people as the theatre. Before launching Motion in 2004, Juliana studied media and communications and then worked as a video editor, producer, and show director for an events company. www.motion.com.sg/

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