Forget B2B or B2C: It’s the H2H era!

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H2HAs marketers, we’ve been trained to speak “business to business” (B2B) or “business to consumer” (B2C). However, businesses and products don’t have emotions, but consumers do. And consumers are humans that want to feel emotions and connect with each other. This is why a true paradigm shift towards “human to human” (H2H) marketing can be so beneficial and will allow you to relate to your consumers in a more honest, intimate way.

Another day at the office, attending endless meetings with internal colleagues, joining calls with partner agencies some of them going well, others less well. It was there, at the end of one of those discussions that my manager told me something that I still remember…’Elena, do you think that when entering a meeting you are managing the business? Of course not, it’s all about managing other people’s emotions’. Mmm…so true, and so interesting that it got me thinking. Actually, this quote is also very relevant when referring to marketing. Yes, the product is important, the benefits as well, but at the end of the day it’s all about the emotions a product or a service triggers in consumers, how this product makes you feel when seeing its advertisement or visiting their store. How do you feel when the sales representative visits you or when you call the customer service for support? First of all, let’s see how this all started…

The End of the Institutional Era

Looking back in 1960s and 1970s a marketing strategy and interaction with the consumers was very different compared to today. It’s not only in regards to the number of advertising mediums available and the impact of technology, but also the societal perspective between companies and consumers. Back then, the institutions and big organizations were highly valued by consumers, enjoying power and trust from their audience. As a consequence, there was mainly one-way dialogue, from companies to consumers, telling them how good and superior they were. Later, B2C and B2B terminologies were also introduced, to separate segments in an effort to target them more effectively. The past decades though, the trust in traditional institutions has been precipitously eroding. We now find ourselves members of a vastly different society, which is characterized by new technologies, innovation, rapid change, and human empowerment.

The life expectancy of an S&P 500 company has dropped from 75 years in 1937 to 15 years today.

Welcome to the new era

All these changes are forcing businesses to innovate in regards to their approach to marketing. Instead of receiving a ‘pushed’ message from a ‘superior’, we are moving towards a ‘peer to peer’ dialogue or even better ‘human to human’. The concept of H2H has been explored by Bryan Kramer, who believes that ‘Communication shouldn’t be complicated. It should just be genuine and simple, with the humility and understanding that we’re all multi-dimensional humans, every one of who has spent time in both the dark and delightful parts of life. That’s human to human’. Other interesting research comes from the advertising agency, Hill Holliday, and brand strategy consulting firm, Lippincott, who released the “Welcome to the Human Era” report, which evaluates brands and separates those that are Human Era brands as opposed to Industrial Era ones.

According to that report, “Being a Human Era” brand goes beyond merely saying that one is more “human.” It requires an authentic story delivered consistently through an inspiring experience. Companies should establish organizational values and commitments that are customer driven and spark an emotional connection with their audience.

Take the test… Are you a Human Era or an institutional era company?

Within the report from Hill Holliday & Lippincott, you will also find a quick test helping you to understand if you are embracing the H2H era. If you answer ‘yes’ to most of the questions below, you need to consider a fundamental shift in terms of your strategy.

  • Do you send emails that have ‘do not reply’ addresses?
  • Do you prevent unedited ratings and comments from customers on your website?
  • Do you proactively steer customers away from the product best for them, and towards the more profitable ones for you?

Which are some key qualities of humanized brands?

Be personal, Be inspirational, Be authentic, Be human. Brands that have succeeded in the Human Era seek to develop valuable connections with consumers and build trust. Consider brands like Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp or Wikipedia. These brands have different business models and they don’t rely on controlling scarce assets or natural monopolies to generate returns.

Human Era companies shed the jargon, lose the corporate pronouncement, and have a dialogue just like real people do. If you follow the Starbucks Twitter feed, you’ll see an authentic and interactive style that feels very personal. When Katy Perry tweeted “Today I quit my beloved coffee & made the switch to vitamin B complex 🙁 Don’t worry @starbucks it’s not forever,” Starbucks playfully hit right back with “It’s ok. Today I made the switch from California Girls to Hold It Against Me. Don’t worry, it isn’t forever. ;-)” When you log onto the company’s in-store WiFi page, it doesn’t say “you are now logged on” but rather “welcome, friends.”

In order to become a humanized brand you need to evaluate your core values and put the human aspect at the center. A human would have his personal story, experiences, beliefs and characteristics that make him or her attractive. What are these traits for your brand? What are the stories that will make you unique and will trigger interest and positive emotions? Be a good storyteller, communicate your values, inspire consumers and live your own story!

Photo credit : filo via

Elena Sava Elena Sava

Brand builder with solid expertise in digital marketing, communication and advertising. A digital evangelist leading projects across majority of digital tactics, and hands on experience from strategy to implementation. A creative marketer, that makes things happen, having worked in large multinational, global and regional roles, client and agency side. Ex journalist, but always passionate for media, I currently contribute to GBN in regards to topics related to (digital) marketing.


  1. Aparna Hegde

    Great article Elena! I completely second you. It is true, the Human emotion is very important in any business we do today. If organization and Brands are able to master this H2H skills, they are surely put up for success. Looking forward to more interesting articles from your end:-)

  2. Sixtine Crutchfield

    Bravo! It is extremely refreshing and encouraging to read about H2H. I have always advocated this theory and am petrified of misuse of AI in a fully automated world. I love Geneva Business School because since my initial involvement as a student in 1999 it is always been a case of the human comes first, our faculty are active professionals who share with our students their experience, our campus around the world are kept to no more than 200 students to keep the size human so that everyone has a chance to get to know everyone else including staff. Admissions are all done one on one with talks and correspondence. We encourage student buddies and Student council members to play a big part in the well being of all new students. After graduation we strive to keep in touch with all of our students as we are celebrating our 25th anniversary we are encouraging alumni from 66 countries to celebrate with us in their home country uniting all their peers under one roof or teleconference as it turns out… Thank you for sharing this is more in tune now than ever.

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