Saturday, November 8, 2008

Where is the human voice?

Our conversations in marketing tend towards two kinds. In flush times, or even flat times, we talk more in terms of vanity, fantasy, aspiration. And in tough times, the subject zags completely to grim reality: budgets, wallets, value, value, value.

I fear that as we all help steer our clients towards transactional ‘you get this for that’ messaging, we will miss the underlying humanity.

This morning I heard a delightful excerpt from an NPR interview with the late Studs Terkel.

Studs was my introduction to real American culture (versus Hollywood culture). When I first moved to Chicago from London, I picked up a second-hand paperback set of his books and read them one after the other. The paper smelled of Chicago, the writing more so.

Here’s what Terkel said in his interview that got me thinking this way. He’s riding on an automated airport shuttle train, with automated voice commands over the PA, automated doors, and passengers too numbed to even smile at each other. This by now very old man turns to a baby cradled in its mother’s arms:

“And I said to that baby, ‘Sir or Madam, what is your opinion of the human race?’ And the baby started to giggle. I said “Thank God! The sound of a human voice!’”

We have a lot of problems, to say the least. But let’s remember that our customers aren’t just balance sheets. Let’s keep the human voice front and center. I believe the brands that remember this will differentiate over the next year. They will bring much appreciated light. And their customers will remember them for it once we return to business normal.

Image by trustynick

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