Being human = good business
Hairs are standing up on the back of my neck. I feel like I am awaiting the arrival of my favourite band on to stage. But this is the School of Life ‘Business Wise’ conference at South Bank – what’s wrong with me? Do I need an injection of ‘get real’ vaccine?
I am here incognito. I am in a crowd of cool types. Not hipsters, just types who are about my age working in creative industries, wanting fresh stimuli on how brands can bridge the gap between the need to deliver profit in a challenged economy and the deeper emotional need for meaningfulness we as individuals and communities also seek. Some insight or nugget that can give us an edge, an insight, a spark, a reassurance… The room is electric with anticipation.
First up on stage is Alain De Botton, writer, philosopher and TV presenter, with a fast and furious lecture on how culture and business are necessary bedfellows and have never been so interconnected, despite perceptions that they are repelling magnets pushing apart. Today’s society has never experienced so much change and with it so many tensions. As a result, there are so many more services and products to be invented; there are so many future human desires for fulfilment. If we apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we are at the dawn of an era of addressing elevated human psychological needs. At the heart of this is emotional quotient (EQ) and providing a sense of meaningfulness to what we do.
Rachel Botsman, writer, advisor and TED speaker on collaborative consumption, shared examples of how businesses tapping into EQ are successful. Whilst Airbnb has achieved more in four years than the Hilton empire achieved in 93 years. They are not about how many rooms they can rent, their business driver is to address the deeper psychological needs of consumers: ‘how do we achieve happiness through travel?’. Ditto LinkedIn, where the leadership is asking: ‘how do we tap into the potential of every individual and link it to the economy?’ versus reaching targets of CV volume online.
The sharing economy, which provides new value from existing assets, is facilitating meeting these higher human needs. Millions of ‘I need’s are accessing the millions of ‘I have’s. Trust is paramount in this exchange, and brands that do this well understand the power of feeding the ‘social self’ – the side of us that seeks connection and belonging. This comes with the collapse of trust in corporations and institutions. Examples of new financial businesses in the sharing economy, such as Zopa, are making banking human again. This is people powered finance, where transparency is celebrated – this is not the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain approach. And why are brands, such as Airbnb so successful? Because there’s been a move from company/brand reputation to individual reputation with the new dimension that consumers must trust the ‘other user’. Airbnb’s raison d’être breaks a powerful, deeply rooted conventional wisdom – do not trust strangers. And even Uber, which recently faced the worst global PR with murder, death and data theft, is still seeing growth. This individual accountability through the transparency of simple two-way ratings systems represents a deep shift in society – one where millions of individual behaviours build trust on a macro level.
Giles Hedger, Chief Strategy Officer at Leo Burnett Worldwide, further explored EQ and branding. We are living in a world where there are profound tensions. Human nature has a need for stability but human patterns driven by the seismic advances of technology are leading to tremendous instability. We feel vulnerable as a direct result of this constant momentum. Brands that can harness the opportunities arising from this conflict, those with high EQ, will have competitive edge. EQ comprises: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, motivation and, most essential, empathy. Always’ ‘Like a girl’ campaign demonstrates high EQ by tapping into the psychology of being a girl and turning perceptions upside down. To run like a girl is to run as fast as you can – not be slow with legs kicked out either side, arms flapping around. To fight like a girl is to punch with all your energy – not a pathetic, weak punch. To throw like a girl is to throw as far as you can – not to weakly and without effort, let the ball drop in front of you. You get the point – saying ‘like a girl’ should not be an insult and disempowering. Always #LikeAGirl is powerful advertising from a confidence brand that is using EQ to reinforce the psychological fulfilment of girls.
There were plenty more examples from plenty more engaging speakers at ‘Business Wise’. The bottom line is that EQ is critical to the bottom line, and those with plenty of it and who apply it to ensure meaningfulness to our organisations, products, services, will succeed. Watch out for the next conference.