What it’s like to be hugged by a brand. Literally.

hugged by a brand

By Mark Schaefer

Last week I was hugged by a brand. I’m serious — a literal, physical hug.

I’ll tell you more about this unexpected embrace, but before I do, I need to explain why this gesture was so important to me, and why it should be important to you, too.


Since the first edition of The Tao of Twitter (2011), I’ve been writing that the best brands are no longer B2B or B2C, they’re P2P — connecting their people with consumers who need them. Despite the amazing new technology we have to connect with people directly, most brands have fallen into the same bad habits of using social media content to advertise, sell, and promote.

What are some of the biggest digital marketing trends right now?

  • Marketing automation
  • Bot-produced content
  • Bot messaging
  • Lead generation through inbound marketing
  • Native advertising
  • Sponsored content

All of these devices and apps are meant to pump out record amounts of annoyance. The pressure to sell, sell, sell is titanic. While we may apply gentle terms like “lead nurturing” or “personalized messaging” to this tech, we’re largely just wrapping the same old advertising messages in sneaky new packages.

But the “buying DNA” of consumers hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. We don’t want to be “sold, sold, sold.  We respond to acknowledgement, respect, and even love.

A call for high-touch

On the one hundredth episode of Douglas Burdett’s fine Marketing Book podcast, the legendary Philip Kotler described the importance of P2P in his new book Marketing 4.0: Moving from Traditional to Digital:

“What we’re missing as consumers is high touch. We’re missing the satisfaction of real relationships and knowing that other people care.

“This is especially pertinent to retailing. If I face a clerk who is indifferent to our presence or I eat at a restaurant where everything is mechanically delivered — even the smiles are mechanical — I don’t feel very close to that organization. They’re missing emotion.

“In the old days, a brand used to be positioned as a perfect solution to a well-understood need. But by claiming that, we end up disappointing people. That’s selling a fantasy. Our message was something like ‘this car will make you so attractive to the opposite sex that you have to buy it.’ Marketing has been about the over-promise. We believed that if we got it sold, then we shouldn’t worry about how people feel about it afterward, and that’s a mistake. In a hyper-connected world, you can’t ignore that the consumer is your most important advocate.

“There’s a hunger for real intimacy and experience. Brands need to be more human and authentic. They should stop trying to be perfect. Human-centric brands should treat customers as friends, becoming an integral part of their lifestyle. Brands should be more like humans. Approachable. Likable. Vulnerable.”

The hug heard round the world

Let’s get back to that hug.

Nearly every month I visit the Hyatt Hotel in New Brunswick, NJ. It’s conveniently located to the Rutgers University campus where I teach. There’s normally a lady with close-cropped silver hair and a big smile behind the front desk who greets me with a “Hello Mr. Schaefer!” when I walk through the lobby door. Her name is Terry.

I’m sure I look like a wreck when I check in for a room. By that point, I’ve been assaulted by airline delays, sloppy weather, the Newark Airport (America’s biggest bus station), rude TSA employees (Newark is the worst), and smelly, crowded subway trains.

Last week Terry looked at my sad, post-travel state and said, “I’ll send a little something to your room.” When I got back from my teaching assignment, I had a fruit and cheese plate waiting for me. And when I checked out of the hotel the next morning, Terry came out from behind the hotel desk and hugged me good bye.

I never hang out around the front desk long enough to get to know Terry, or for Terry to get to know me. But this little gesture had an amazing impact. The traveling life can be so incredibly grueling, especially in the winter. Damn, that hug made a difference. A hug from the Hyatt.

And now you know about it, too. It’s the hug heard ’round the world.

“Be more human.” It’s not just a saying.

I end nearly all of my talks and lectures by encouraging my audience to go back to their companies and look for ways to “be more human” in everything they do, in every piece of content they produce, and in every customer interaction.

Be more human. That’s the killer app, folks.

Maybe it seems strange to hear Dr. Kotler’s advice for your company to be imperfect and vulnerable. Getting a hug from a Hyatt employee may not be considered politically correct in some circles. But it certainly was an act of deep humanity, acknowledgment, respect, and yes … vulnerability.

A hug sure felt better than a piece of branded content, a targeted Facebook ad, or repetitive emails from Infusionsoft. And it probably earned a customer for life.

screenshot-2016-12-17-11-08-40Addendum: This post went viral and rippled through the Hyatt system. After I published the article, Terry received a call at home and was asked to come into work on her day off. When she arrived she was greeted by the CEO and president of Hyatt, who wanted to thank her for her on great work. Congratulations, Terry for a job well done. See you again soon!


sxsw-2016-3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration: Embrace sculpture by Eric Kilby. Book links are affiliate links.

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