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The key to ‘Human Experience’ is great storytelling

Human experience (HX) has recently emerged as a concept that leading brands and consultancies say must be prioritized to remain competitive in the digital age. What does this mean for marketing? And how do you distinguish human experience from user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX)? Centerline’s Strategic Creative Director Dan Self and Group Account Director Michelle Yancey sat down to discuss the meaning of HX, and why it leads back to the importance of great storytelling.

HX is a trendy term right now, but how new is it, really?

Dan: It’s a new concept, but, from my point of view, it’s also a very old concept.

Michelle: Even though it’s old it can become new again because people have neglected to pay attention to it. Not just the buyer and the consumer, but the person that’s responsible for making decisions. And that comes with emotional, contextual things that haven’t been considered.

Dan: Exactly. It goes back to what resonates, what makes human beings make authentic choices.

So if HX is actually a very old concept, why is it resurfacing today? 

Michelle: We can probably look back at many advertising campaigns, from Campbell’s Soup to Apple, that appeal to what we call human. We make decisions based on how things make us feel. In a Campbell’s Soup commercial, you have a bunch of people in a house after being out in the snow. They wanted to feel warm, so they have soup. That feeling, that emotion behind why we make certain choices as consumers has always been prevalent.

However, with the advent of technology, the speed at which people are making decisions has changed how people market to people. They started to use data as a means to characterize groups of people and say, “This is how they buy.” But they may have missed the human piece of the equation, which is: Yes, they’re buying, but why are they buying? Are they buying this thing because it makes them feel a certain way? I think for a number of years what we’ve seen is content that doesn’t recognize that a person has feelings and emotions. As a result, you have a lot of content that was a little colder. You didn’t have that warm fuzzy feeling.

Dan: I’m going to bring the question back to B2B. I firmly believe that businesses don’t talk to businesses. People talk to people. So intrinsic in the name business-to-business is an inherent flaw. What we’re all trying to do is engage in a deep, authentic real way.

We forget that in B2B, so I think HX is about getting to the heart of what makes us human but not forgetting that ultimately human beings are what make an enterprise work. Right? And that’s what really HX is about. It’s about valuing individual contributions and a cohesiveness. That’s what we’re really trying to acknowledge. And if we can impart that in our work, just a little bit, whatever we are asked to create, then we’re creating a deeper connection.

Michelle: I think at the end of the day, “human experience” has always been a fit in marketing. If you fail to appeal to the person, your piece of content is not effective. Technology is important. We all like technology. But until tech truly gets built up and applied correctly, I think we need to go back to the basics of—to Dan’s point—why do people purchase?

So…why do people purchase specific things and not others?

Michelle: What do people need in life? If you can boil that down to key principles, they might be: The need to belong, the need to be loved. No matter what you’re selling, if you’ve been able to elicit that emotional response, there will be a connection to that product, to that business, to that service that can’t be manufactured.

Dan: It’s so true. Technologists and futurists right now say that we have a frontal lobe that is really much more advanced than it probably should be. Our ability to process language, critical thought, figure out equations…we can do all these things, but really it hasn’t kept pace with our emotional or our connected-story tissue. We’ve used technology to partition off the things that make us more human. And that—I think—is really the essence of HX. Let’s get back to what connects us as human beings, which is: stories that resonate. They have a bigger purpose beyond a bottom line. They take a little bit of time. They make the customer the hero. They make people feel like they belong.

Michelle: Stories go back generations upon generations upon generations. Storytelling was a means not only to communicate information, to keep legacies alive ancestrally, but to also get people excited around what was in the past, and what goes forward into the future.

There’s been a lot of effort by consultancies focused on HX to transform it into a quantitative science. Do you think it’s possible to quantify and measure things like universal human values? 

Dan: Sure it is, depending on what you want the outcome to be. If ultimately you want the outcome to be a deeper relationship with your customers, if you want them to understand exactly what you do, how you do it and what you stand for, then you’re going to tell a story that has a human value. That has a hero. I guess that’s what they’re boiling it down to.

Michelle: I think the answer is yes. If you ask why, well, look at Hollywood. Hollywood has been in business how many years? And they make a profit because they’re able to create cinema, they’re able to create stories that are anchored in several basic truths. The need to belong, the need to love, the need to—

Dan: There are only seven stories on the planet.

Michelle: —exactly. And if you are able to tell a story with those truths, you’ve got a blockbuster hit. I think it was very wise of Deloitte to recognize the trend of colder technology edging out humanity and the subsequent need to bring it back into the equation. Resurfacing what those human truths are. Good stories are anchored in those human truths.

I think the brands that have historically told good stories continue to run campaigns that appeal to people. And for brands that have not historically told human-centric stories, it’s not a matter of if, but when. It’s either you take the leap now, or you get beat out by your competition.