Hands up all who think the world is a fine and dandy place where everything is as it should be?
Thank you, Mickey Mouse, I expected no less from you. For the rest of us, however much the eternal optimist we may be, we realise that all is not as it should be.
We find ourselves confronted with an increasing number of worthy causes demanding our attention. But what if there was a way that to save the world that makes as much sense to our capitalist (professional) natures as it does to our altruistic ones?
It begins with an understanding of the changing nature of people’s expectations and what this means for brands.
Research points to the fact that during difficult times, people search for brands that provide them with meaning and a sense of hope rather than those that simply discount or focus on minimising the negatives. There’s an oft-quoted phenomenon arising from the cosmetics industry known as ‘the lipstick factor’– the simple notion that during recessions (and one might assume other periods of distress), people want to feel better about themselves, and will look for cheap and easy ways to do so. One result is a spike in lipstick sales.
So the question I have for everyone out there in marketingland is this: if people are currently looking for ways to feel better, what are you doing to make that connection between feeling better and engaging with your brand? I’m not talking about going the extra mile in customer service, or espousing the benefits of using or owning your product. These things now fall into the category of being hygiene factors (those things which don’t add anything by being present, but will lead to negative outcomes if they are absent, an idea first proposed by Herzberg).
No, consumers these days want far more from you. They don’t just want to know what your product does, how much it costs, or where to find it; they want to know what you stand for. The fact is that in difficult climates, most companies forget this last point and focus on the other three. But what if there was an opportunity being missed?
I’m hereby introducing two new Ps to the marketing vernacular: Passion and Philanthropy. While these two Ps are certainly not mutually exclusive, which of these two you emphasise will largely depend on the nature of your product and the industry in which you operate.
I believe David Gillespie so beautifully presented the case for passion in his piece ‘The Greatest of These’ (last month’s print issue of Marketing) that I’ll say little more on it; for those of you who didn’t catch it, David argued that love (or Passion) is what sets brands like Apple or Nike apart from their competitors. It’s clear and undeniable. However, they’re selling exciting products in an exciting industry. So what if you’re selling a less-than-exciting product like most FMCG brands? It’s ok, here is a safe place to admit it – your product may well be as boring as the proverbial batsh*t. How to proceed when Passion is a little harder to come by?
Cue Philanthropy. I won’t for a moment suggest that possessing Passion diminishes the need for Philanthropy; rather, I’m just proposing that Philanthropy can generate Passion and sentiment where they otherwise wouldn’t exist. Take washing powder for instance – ever bought into emotionally? Me neither. But what if, every time there was a disaster (think hurricane, earthquake, flood), you knew there was a team of people and vans operated by a washing powder company that would show up and take care of the inevitable loads of filthy clothes just to help out? With a capacity of up to 300 loads per day, that’s exactly what Tide’s ‘Loads of Hope’ program in the US does. Suddenly, your tediously boring product (despite the years of trying to get us excited about ‘whiter whites’, it ain’t working) creates emotional buy-in with consumers. It’s not trivial or tacky, it’s just a brand saying ‘hey, we’re going to help out by doing what comes naturally to us.’ And before you write it off as a cheap publicity stunt, you should know that they have a team of thirty vans dedicated to the task. That’s right, it’s actually a part of their branding strategy, not just a one-off knee-jerk reaction to what’s grabbing the headlines this week.
The other, often simpler alternative, is to leverage the philanthropic creds of an existing organisation. Where your product lacks passion or emotion, there are plenty of worthy causes who’d be happy to lend you some of theirs. In exchange for your support, they’ll give you logos, sponsorship opportunities, and bragging rights that can turn your brand from a household commodity into part of a bigger force for social revolution. Its a win for your brand and a win for humankind.
Times are a-changing, and this is just the beginning. You’ve all heard the story of someone who knew someone who had to have a university degree to get a job as a receptionist because there are so many qualified people out there companies are just expecting more and more from people. Well, take it from me: corporations and brands are about to get their comeuppance. The days are coming when consumers will ask you how you’re saving the world before they’ll even consider buying your loaf of bread or can of beans. Its already begun with the green revolution and its only going to grow from there.
My advice is to start thinking about what you’re going to say – and it had better involve at least one of the two new Ps.
Eds note: For more on the Lipstick Factor – watch out for the July issue of Marketing magazine, where Kate Kendall goes behind the scenes of the LOréal Group to get some answers.