The best marketing insight I’ve received in the past 5 years

marketing insight

Over the past few years I have had the great fortune to meet and talk to some of the greatest marketing and business minds in the world. I have learned so much from them, but there is one single marketing insight from Dr. Robert Cialdini that continues to hang in my mind every single day.

Although we had this discussion in 2012, his advice seems to grow more profound to me month by month.

Dr. Cialdini is arguably the foremost academic and writer on the subject of power and influence in the world. His books include the best-selling classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

While doing research for my book Return On Influence, I asked him, “Dr. Cialdini, in this information-dense world, how does a leader stand out?”

His reply: “Be more human.”

The more I have been immersed in this digital world, the more I am sure he is right.

Ultimately people will buy from who they know, who they trust. That isn’t going to come from the best backlinks or the most optimized content. I think the most human content and the most human companies will win in this competitive world.

Connecting in a human way builds trust. Trust builds loyalty. And loyalty trumps everything.

As I work with diverse organizations ranging from Johnson & Johnson to the US Air Force, I keep hearing myself repeat those words over and over again. Be. More. Human.

  • When you get down to it, isn’t that what we cherish most of all?
  • Is “being human” scalable across a large enterprise? How?
  • Where is the line between being human and respecting privacy? Is this changing?
  • Is “being human” a strategy? Should it be?

The idea raises a lot of questions. I am trying to discern what it means for me … for all of us in this community really.

Will the most human companies win? Will the most human blogs win? Will the most human humans win? I think so. I think that is really the killer app for an era of Content Shock.

Your thoughts?

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Thomas.

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  • Spot on post today! When my friends ask me how to improve sales or get more results in their careers…I just say Be Yourself! Be real…it’s a long term thing but it will work. I would say Being Human falls right in line with it…have a great day!

  • Absolutely Mark. Love it. Be. More. Human. It goes hand in hand with one of my favorite quotes; “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you CARE”
    Some people get it ….. and some … never will. Thanks again Mark.

  • I love that!
    “Be. A. Human. (BAH)The killer app for the era of Content Shock.”
    I think the questions you raise reflect the difficulty companies have with balancing marketing/adverting and ‘social’. How do you scale human?

    How can being human be a strategy when it’s the ‘voice’ of your strategy?

    Maybe social and marketing should get a divorce. Marketing wants to turn social into something it isn’t. Better they go their own ways and meet up at SXSW or SMMW.

    Companies can have both, just not in the same bed.

  • stefankrafft

    Just great Mark, what a advice you had and thanks for sharing it with us. The questions that pops up in my mind is how to show humanity? It is a lot more than how you write and tonality, it has to become a part of your strategy to be true and to shine trough a whole organisation. Being human means to me transparency, being open for everyone to contribute to your products and take good care of every single interaction you can make. It´s not an easy job, it demands a lot of courage from top level management to become a real human company – a company that do care about people.

  • Jeffrey Slater

    This insight is so simple most will shrug it off as obvious. But people often act like they think a salesperson should act or behave like a CFO should behave. They keep their humanity tucked away and don’t bring it to the office. Get real.

    Whatever successes I have achieved in my career always started with a personal connection that created trust over time. Sometime it led to transactions, commerce or business but it always started with a personal and very human outreach. Books like Daniel Pink’s TO SELL IS HUMAN are wonderful illustrations of how this unfolds in the world today.

    Empathy leads to understanding. From there, trust is around the corner. Beyond trust, is when people do business together.

  • Mark, you continue to rock! It’s impossible to overstate how important the human element is – and in b2b as much as in consumer marketing. At gyro everything we do as a marketing agency for our b2b clients centers around being “humanly relevant,” which may strike some as an odd phrase, but is meant to prompt attention to every human dimension in the *people* our clients want to connect with. Even the crustiest purchasing manager has hopes, fears, ambitions, moments of doubt or exhilaration; if we don’t bother to understand and at least acknowledge that, then we set our own trap of dealing with others on a relentlessly transactional level. And ultimately we lose.
    A great post, Mark, and I hope it generates a lot of thought, discussion and better ways of doing business! –

  • I think you really nailed it. It really is the cure for content shock. I certainly hope that the personal connections will continue to become more important. I know that is how I find authors I like to read, so that’s how I operate my writing business. But the truth is, even if it weren’t the truth it is what I’d do. What I like about your blog is that it helps reaffirm what I felt to be true about my business. And the fact that you’re human. {grin}

  • I think we are all still learning how to be human online. You only uploads tidbits of your entire life to the web. Which bits you decide to upload will create this whole image of you online.

  • Couldn’t agree more. You raise the questions, “Is “being human” scalable across a large enterprise? How?”. I think this is the biggest problem facing large companies and is a competitive advantage that clever, small companies have over larger ones. Although some large enterprises might have CEOs that “get this” and present a good public image, I’m not sure how this can consistently feed down to the front line of the often over-worked and under-paid employees who deal with customers.

  • Thanks for the support Mike.

  • Nice quote Al! Thanks.

  • Interesting discussion topic. Certainly the big names and big money are taking over. Is that inevitable? Or could a human approach win? Aren’t we seeing a few successes out there?

  • Good points. It takes a special kind of corporate culture to support that!

  • A lot of wisdom here Jeffery. Thanks for sharing that voice of experience with the community! I appreciate you.

  • Tremendous comment Pete and I agree this is especially relevant for B2B!

  • Yes, I can confirm that I am a human. At least after the first cup of coffee! Thank you for your consistent support and wisdom Pauline!

  • Absolutely true. Thanks Blake.

  • Powerful point Martin. I do think it can scale if the culture can support it.

  • Laura Kaslow

    This is so simple, yet so profound. Thank you for writing this. I just shared it with my colleagues. You couldn’t’ be more spot on.

  • Thanks so much Laura!

  • Laura Kaslow

    Ahh, but of course. Good stuff, per usual!

  • Jean Dion

    I love the idea of being human, whether you’re hiding behind a computer or out in the real world. But, I also think that there’s a danger here of letting the snarky part of human nature creep into the business world.

    Tantrums and just overall unpleasantness are also human, and when they’re unleashed online, they can do an intense amount of damage, as people are quick to get out the pitchforks.

    How do you find a balance between being human and being professional? That’s the big question I think many companies are struggling with right now.

  • That is a brilliant idea! So simple, but again so profound. This idea may also be translated as, “be more genuine”. Thanks for sharing these ideas Mark!

  • Now more than ever too. Which is why I still, an always will, personally answer every email I get.

  • I’ve written quite a bit about that. You might Google “bitch mittens” 🙂

  • Thanks John.

  • Good on ya Jim.

  • Our company strapline.. ‘With us it’s Personal’ is how we ALL work.. the great feedback we get from our customers is testimony to how we operate.. Its not rocket science being human.

  • Love this, so much. So simple, so important but so often overlooked. In my own buying behaviour I have noticed an increasing draw to businesses that are more human. For example, I used to use Amazon for all my book purchases. Now I find myself using our local bookstore more and more. I love the human connection and the personal service. The experience I get from them is creating increased loyalty to them. Is it easier, more convenient and, sometimes, cheaper to use Amazon? Yes it is. But those things are increasingly trumped by the humanness of using my local bookstore and the experience I get when I use them and how they make me feel.

  • 🙂

  • Emma Parry-Thorpe

    An “online” website can’t have a chat to you about how your kids are, if the dog is now better and did you get that new car that you wife so wanted for herself – I can – as a Gold Travel Counsellor I chat to my customers every single day and I always remember a snippet from our last conversation or pieces of information about their wants and needs, they don’t have to tell me to request a vegetarian meal – I’ve already done it! This information is not stored online – it’s all in my head! Travel Counsellors “with us its personal” 🙂

  • Jean Dion

    I’ll admit to being more than a little worried about running that search, but I’m glad I did! Excellent post. Thanks.

  • I’ve heard you speak about Content Shock several times. But no matter what I do, I can’t shake the memory of the time you were on Mitch Joel’s podcast with Shel Holtz. I can’t read minds (yet!), but as far as I could tell you were frustrated with Holtz’s statements. As you pushed back you dismissively said, “Well, then you’re just in the ‘Be amazing camp.'” I’ve heard you voice similar dissatisfaction with the “Be amazing camp” on other occasions. However, this time sticks out for one reason.

    As the conversation came to a close, Mitch inquired about the solution to Content Shock. You went straight to “Be human.” The ironic juxtaposition was screaming at me louder than Fulton when we won’t let him watch Daniel Tiger.

    Here’s my issue; what makes “Be human” any better advice than “Be amazing”? They both seem like overwhelmingly vague phrases that make the audience of the day feel all warm and tingly inside. When a new one comes down from on high, marketers rejoice in our collective intelligence as we liberally used said phrase to demonstrate our genius to our prospects and clients.

    Then, suddenly and without warning, we wake up and realize “Be Amazing” “Be Human” or “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” has lost its shine. We become enlightened and finally see the security we felt from repeating our handy little phrase was nothing more than an illusion. We wise up and tell ourselves, “I’m not falling for that again!” And then set out to discover the next 2-6 word combination that explains the entire marketing cosmos in a single phrase … Until 2017 when we quixotically rinse and repeat.

    I once had a spiritual director who often said, “James, at some point all analogies limp.” While these phrases aren’t analogies, they are certainly meant to convey significance beyond the words they contain. And they mightily limp along in place of an *actual* strategy where *you* do *actual* work and figure out what aligns with *your* brand and resonates with *your* audience.

    So, is “be human” a strategy? I can only answer with a resounding, “NO.” And I think you answered your own question when you called “be amazing” on the carpet.

    Much like the great Saints of old, phrases like this are meant to be sign posts pointing us to an ultimate reality. Sign posts are made for a purpose. They are there to point to where you are traveling.

    They are not the destination.

  • hannahlucy07

    Mind-blowing….. presently I’m running with a local project, I hope it must be help me out.

    Best Help Desk Software

  • Nice one Mark, great article and well said 🙂

  • Very interesting perspective. For a small business like that, it is the ONLY way to compete, isn’t it? Thanks for the great anecdote Ali!

  • As always, I appreciate the challenge and the thought you put into your comments James.

    I do not believe “Be More Human” is merely a jingle. It is a business truth we have forgotten in many cases. For centuries, we have bought from those we know and trust but in the era of mass broadcasting we have forgotten that because it is so easy and elegant to turn our customer connection over to an ad agency and a clever tagline.

    The social web gives us an ability to re-capture that connection and once again own the customer relationship. In an example in the comment section below, a reader buys from a local book store because of the human connection. They get it. Literally, it is the ONLY way they can compete against Amazon.

    Can this be a strategy? “Strategy” implies that you are doing something that is sustainably different from others. While nobody can corner the market on being human, I can tell you that many companies can’t and won’t move in that direction. So for those who can and do, yes, I think there is an opportunity for competitive advantage.

    I rail against the “Be Amazing” camp because it is a dangerous and mis-leading meme. The idea that “great content always rises to the top” is simply wrong (as you well know and have pointed out on this blog before!) and yet it is too easy to embrace by those who are not thinking critically and looking for a nail to hang a strategy on.

    That is not to say quality is not important. It is. But there is a cost to that too that extends far beyond copywriting.

    I hope that helps. Thanks again for the comment.

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  • The reality is, your marketing won’t pick up real momentum until you’ve mastered the “know, like, trust” factor.

  • The unforgettable people in my life have been the ones who I felt most wanted to _understand_ me.
    Other than that one quality, they have almost nothing in common by way of any other association (family, friends, strangers, etc.)
    One of them is the chairman of one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the world and has met with some of the most powerful people in the world. When he speaks to little ole me, I feel like he sees me like everyone else: someone important and worth talking to.
    Sometimes this is hard to do, but I try as much as I can to emulate that approach because, in the end, it’s the “righter” way to go through life.
    And that’s because we all basically like to be treated that way–as well we should: we are all, natively, amazing. 🙂

  • Great view, I think you’re absolutely right; being human means: first I must be aware of my own values an live toward them – an there is no separation between business and private life!

  • Thanks Barry.

  • Thanks for commenting Patrick.

  • Wonderful story Hans. Thanks for sharing this!

  • P.K. Hunter

    An old idea. Don’t rehash it just because a bulb went up in your mind 20 years later. Human Computer Design. Human Experience Design. Nokia, human design. Et cetera. It’s all about customers. It’s all about people. It’s all about talent. Yada yada yada. Yes we get the idea. The problem is in the consistent and sustained delivery of this very beautiful philosophical thought. Any idea on how to execute? No. So, well, thanks muchly for the brain flatulence.

  • Thanks for the insight Marta.

  • Your comment seems unnecessarily unkind but I do appreciate the dissent. And I do agree that this is not a new idea, but something we seem to have forgotten.

    This was designed to be a short post, not necessarily a “how-to” but certainly that is a ripe topic to cover as well.

  • Bindoo

    Thank you for indulging. No, the intent was not to be unkind or uncouth. Your post never acknowledged the oldness of this idea. Also, this is the kind of thought where execution trumps the beauty of its ideology.

  • I have written about this topic quite a bit both here and more recently in my book Social Media Explained. In that book I trace the fundamental marketing ideas of social media to Medieval Europe, for example. Yes. It is an old idea but it is also new in the sense that many marketers have abandoned that connection for the elegance and ease of throwing money at an ad campaign. That is the point I am trying to re-establish.

  • : )

  • Thanks, Mark. I read your reply when you sent it and have been thinking it over. There just something about “be more human” that doesn’t strike me as a strategy. For clarity’s sake, I turned to our old friend Merriam-Webster:


    : a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time

    When I read “careful plan or method”, I think of something far beyond a general guiding principle. So I looked up another word:


    : a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

    Bingo. That’s exactly what I think of when I hear “be more human.” I see it as “a way of thinking, behaving, or working”, not “a careful plan or method.” To me, strategy implies a plan that includes carefully planned and executed actions.

    However, “be more human” feels much more like an overarching core principal that can propel an organization forward. Especially today given your point about how technology has disrupted the traditional buying and retention cycle.

    But even then, I think it needs to be defined far beyond one phrase. Because “be more human” could mean a million things to a million different organizations. And more than a set of specific actions they need to take (strategy), I believe in “be more human” we are dealing with an organization’s fundamental ethos. But, again, even that ethos needs to be defined to give everyone in the organization a common language to speak so the “be more human” culture can begin to permeate the organization.

    I don’t remember if we’ve discussed this before, but I used to work at Quicken Loans. I still have fond memories of my time there because they have such an amazing culture. They call them their “ISMS”. I haven’t worked there for over 8 years, but some of these ISMS still guide my thinking each day. I think they are a fantastic example of what “be more human” looks like in one of the most successful companies in America.

    All this to say, I’m sticking with my initial no. Just because I think it’s a question of culture, not strategy.

    This is where my Uncle Tom would say, “Jimmy, you’re cutting the meat pretty thin.” And my Mom would say, “James. Robert. Hahn. II. You are THE most stubborn child I have ever met!”

  • James. Robert. Hahn. I do agree with your mother! : )

    I love your comment. But I do believe these ideas are not mutually exclusive. Here is an example of what I mean.

    I am currently working with an incredible company with a loving, open, corporate culture that is nothing short of inspiring. So you are correct — this “human
    aspect is most definitely a function of corporate culture

    But you would never ever know this from their website or social media presence (none). Their online persona is terrible. It’s cold, outdated and legalistic (like their competitors).

    Now, what if we could really unleash the beauty of this company by letting it show online? Now, THAT would be an awesome strategy! What if coached them, guided them, taught them how to excel and show this culture to the world in a way that tells their story and makes the world fall in love with them?

    This strategy (a plan!) would absolutely result in business benefits and it is something that I believe is sustainable because I truly believe they can be more effective than their competitors. It works.

  • “Check and mate. You’re welcome.” – Mark W. Schaefer

    The example and defined strategy is exactly what I was after. And I may or may not have used some remarkably similar language when talking about how to be authentic when following up with prospects on my podcast last week.

    So, yup. You got me. It’s a strategy … As long as organizations take the necessary steps to define what it means for them and put a plan in place, as you have done above.

    Which leads me to ponder: where would you be without stubborn friends trolling your blog?? Besides enjoying more time with your family and doing the things that actually matter for your business 🙂

  • You matter. That’s enough for me!

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  • Matt

    Yes this is an old idea. Most good ideas have old roots. But it’s always good to be reminded of good ideas even if they are old. It’s all about creating relationships with consumers, media, other businesses – whoever you interact with. The better the relationships, the better marketed your product or organization will be.

  • Good post. Great comments as well! I do like the simplicity of “Be more human.” a lot. And then I thought of “Don’t be evil.” which seems to convey a similar spirit, but from the opposite angle. Does it?

  • Well said Matt.

  • Perhaps the difference is in execution. i try to follow my mantra. im not sure Google follows theirs! : )

  • YES! Agreed.

  • A cup of coffee with a prospect goes a long way. Being good at what you do and being yourself. Thank you Mark for reminding us all!

  • Glad you found it helpful Susan.

  • Marie Taylor

    I really would love to believe that the most human organisations coupled with a big dose of professionalism, a sprinkling of great solution based products and the desire to have fun creating will win through!

  • Vikas Prabhakar

    Thanks for this timeless truth Mark. I think empathy and understanding in terms of trying to build a genuine two way relationship between people and organisations by being more human will always pay dividends.

  • Well said sir.

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