I am brand

Tom Tytherleigh
24 March 2017

Charlie, Oscar, Grace, Clara, Alfred, Lulu, Benny, Ginger.

If that sounds like the register at your local primary school, it’s not.

Think less jungle gym, more corporate ladder. These are eight companies, each with a disarmingly sweet, disarmingly different human name.

It’s easy to be cynical about this trend. It’s twee. It’s cutesy. From close-up, it’s see-through. And it’s a bit bloody easy.

But until Companies House is overrun by Tallulahs and Brads and Jennys, and you can’t tell the FTSE from your four year-old’s birthday guestlist, I suspect it’s also a bit bloody effective.

A human name does all the warm, toasty, wholesome things a basic set of voice guidelines asks you to do: be approachable… avoid sounding too cold or technical… imagine you’re having a real conversation… person to person.

But it does so from a position of greater power and prominence. From higher up. Right at the top. Pit Oscar against Clover Health, Bright Health, Stride Health and SimplyInsured, and it’s pretty clear who makes the sweeter first impression.

Hoooooowever.

No one takes the ruse the whole way, or the conceit to its completion. (As far as I know.)

No one uses the persona as a mouthpiece. They enjoy the warm associations, but keep a safe distance. And no one says ‘I’.

Why?

Probably because it’s too awkward.

Speaking as we now comes pretty naturally to most businesses. It’s the default setting. And it’s a good one: companies show they’re a collection of people, not an icy, faceless mechanism.

Twinning that perspective with a single, singular brand character is tricky.

Usually there are two ploys at play: to show we’re human through our human name, but also to reveal our authentically, transparently human character by giving a public face to the people who work for us.

When these two collide, things get odd:

Probably because it’s too hard.

Maintaining a consistent voice isn’t easy. Particularly if you’re claiming to be just one person. Collective identities are simpler to whip up. They’re simplifications. Averages. Variation is part of the definition.

To create a stable, convincing first-person-singular perspective is more complex. It requires more fine-tuning and thinking ahead. To be credible, it may also need a more natural human balance (flaws and all).

Probably because it’s too early.

When a company calls itself ‘Oscar’ but then says ‘We are Oscar’, a sort of skeumorphism jumps into place. They make a pact with what you’re used to.

What they’re roughly saying is, we’re like the companies you know, but we’re a lot more human… but don’t worry, we’re not actually pretending to be a human, so don’t be weirded out, yeh?

Because we would be weirded out, wouldn’t we? Despite all the Alexas and Siris, it still feels strange talking to interfaces that we know aren’t human, but which ape our language and manners.

That will change. Bots like this will help. And, over time, the people that now act as the human face of an organisation may even retreat behind a more singular, crafted character.

But for now that elusive ‘I’ brand feels a long way off.

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