It is impossible to judge or think about Tesla without thinking about Elon Musk. Tesla is the embodiment of Elon Musk. Tesla succeeds in an extremely competitive market with massive public pressure and little marketing spend. How does Tesla continue to do so well? Among other things, it is a posthuman brand. Every time someone purchases a Tesla, they are buying into Elon Musk. They believe in what he stands for and want to support it.
In the social media era, the distinction between people and brands is unclear. Brands are becoming more human. They act like the people their audience wants to be. They speak like their target market. They behave like their target market. Instead of relying on other people to make them human (endorsements), they act like humans themselves.
Most brands today promote the message of “to be like the person you admire, buy our stuff.” The brands of the future will say “if you want to be like us, buy our stuff.”
Posthuman brands are brands that behave and communicate like their target audience. They do not talk to their audience, they talk with them. So what makes a posthuman brand?
1. Posthuman brands speak in the first person
Posthuman brands post on social media like they are people. They post low production-value videos, text-only tweets, photos from their phones, and memes. They talk about real life, news in the community, and complaints. Not content that is finely crafted to drive you towards a landing page or blog post. Posthuman brands aim to be as close to their target market as possible by copying them. They aim to maximize whatever characteristic the group values. Humor is a primary way of doing this. Posthuman brands should take part in in-jokes as much as possible.
Brands should act like the people audience want to be, not who the people are. They must be more clever, more “on-brand,” then the people who follow them are. People buy things to be better. Buying something from a member of “your group” should make you feel like you are deeper in the group.
Traditional brands behave and look like robots in the era of posthuman brands. A big opportunity for posthuman brands is interacting with non-posthuman brands. They can distinguish how they act and show “we are like you.” The next generation does not want to interact with robots. They will not support robots unless they must. People want to interact with and support brands they like. If they go out of their way to support or communicate in any way with a brand, the brand should care.
2. Posthuman brands are opportunistic
Posthuman brands capitalize on the internet’s viral nature through trends and memes. They respond to praise or issues in a genuine way. They build deeper trust and awareness with their audience. In-members believe the brand is “one of us.” All this leads to awareness, trust, and most importantly, sales.
Even if traditional brands wanted to capitalize on a trend, they may not be able to. Their audience is not ready to interact with them. An audience must be primed to share or interact with a brand. They have to see other people sharing or interacting with the content. Becoming a posthuman brand requires a radical shift in mindset most traditional brands will never make. They are fine with the status quo and face an innovator’s dilemma. Many traditional brands will fall to posthuman brands (if the brand’s underlying business is of similar quality).
3. Posthuman brands hangout where you hangout
Posthuman brands spend most of their time where you spend most of your time. In most cases, that is social media. Depending on the group they are trying to reach, they may spend most of their time and energy on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or Youtube. Their photos, tweets, and videos target specific groups on those sites and are easily shareable. They create content like an individual would create content on these sites, not as a brand would. They do not share blog posts about best practices, product updates, or sales announcements. They are a member of the group, not an outsider.
The future is focusing on “niche” platforms (these platforms are big, but brands don’t understand how big) such as TikTok, Snapchat, Discord, Twitch, and various chat apps. Creating content specifically for those channels gives brands early mover advantages. Sponsorships and endorsements aren’t enough. Brands who create content that is native and accepted by sub-communities will succeed in the era of posthuman brands.
It is important to think about the ethical concerns of posthuman brands. Is it ok for a brand to pretend they are human, especially when they are mimicking things people are struggling with? It is not ok to take advantage of “relatable” depressed teen tweets to sell more SunnyD. In the end, it is a marketing tactic. They are trying to sell more goods. They are trying to make a profit. Posthuman brands are ok as long as they do not promote negative behavior or take advantage of misfortune.
With the improvements to mobile video and AR, we will see an increase in brands becoming posthuman and an increase in quality of “posthuman content.” Brands will create mobile avatars. Digital mascots will become cool. Brands will create ultra-realistic mascots who act and talk like who their target market dreams of being. They hope to fulfill the dreams of the masses by creating something that doesn’t exist. Talk about unrealistic expectations.
Think about a travel brand creating an alien “ambassador” to travel the world and post photos and videos where ever they go. Think about an instant ramen company tweeting about “unreal” college parties and has an Instagram Live dorm room cooking show. Think about a sports brand creating an armchair quarterback character who complains about the NFL every Sunday. Think about video game characters running for president. Think about a car brand that posts memes, wants to save the world, and has plans to colonize Mars, wait…
As always, I would appreciate your thoughts and feedback over on Twitter: @IanVanagas