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Marketing is not about brands; it’s about people!


The shift in zeitgeist from the me-era to the We-era has added implications for brands and marketers. In the years to come, brands should focus not on the ‘me, myself and I’ (brand image,) but rather on the We aspect (brand meaning.) The successful marketer will be the one who invests his or her efforts into improving the well-being of people and society.

In this article, I will explain how marketers can work towards the well-being of people and society by expanding the benefit ladder of their brand. By moving ‘upward’ from functional and emotional benefit (step 1 and 2) to the level of transformational and societal benefit (steps 3 and 4).

Functional and emotional benefit

Marketers are trained to develop and communicate the functional and emotional benefits their brand has to offer. One example is Nike, which markets super-light running shoes featuring Lunar technology, a development that makes you feel athletic and in-shape.

In most cases, however, brand identities are based on emotion, because it is difficult to hold a distinctive functional claim. That’s why Coca Cola has been investing in the feeling of happiness for years. However, this kind of marketing is simply not enough these days.

From brand image to brand meaning

In the past few decades, there has been too much focus on brand image and on building emotional associations. However, in a society where the role of government is decreasing and consumers are gaining power, people expect meaningful, positive contributions from companies. People want to know what brands are doing to improve their individual well-being in daily life (transformational benefit) and the well-being of society as a whole (societal benefit).

Societal benefit

At the moment, many companies are already contributing actively to society. This can be done in two ways: by reducing the negative impact of one’s business, or by increasing one’s positive impact. The first option has so far received the most attention among sustainable business initiatives. Unilever, for example, is aiming to halve its environmental footprint by 2020. Yet that is not enough; that’s merely the pre-requisite for decent business practices. It’s far more important to invest in the positive contribution made by your brand. Unilever’s brand Dove accomplishes this by helping to increase the self-esteem of young girls through the Self-Esteem Project, while the Dutch coffee brand Douwe Egberts contributes by organising the Neighbour Day, a day that encourages people to get out and meet their neighbours by drinking coffee together. Providing a societal benefit is important, but is not the most vital key to success.

Transformational benefit

As a brand, you are most relevant when you can be of significance in a consumer’s daily life, on a truly human level. Because it remains a truism that the consumer thinks ‘what’s in it for me?’ first and ’what’s in it for the others?’ after that. So your focus should be on helping your consumer improve his or her daily well-being, helping them to develop and transform himself or herself. Doing that can be much more valuable than your brand’s social contribution alone!

Cases: Nike, Flora, Exact

Nike understands this concept well. They want to help you, the individual, to improve as an athlete a little bit each day with Nike+. Flora and Becel margarine spreads have been helping people around the world to successfully lower their cholesterol level, through the company’s three-week Flora Pro-activ challenge. There are front runners in B2B as well, such as the software solutions company Exact, which is helping entrepreneurs become better in online business by sharing all the company’s knowledge.

The marketer who focuses on improving people’s lives and well-being will prove most successful in the coming decade. The transformational benefit that they offer will more strongly impact people’s lives than providing the latest feature (functional), posting another funny viral video on Facebook (emotional) or maintaining a CO2-neutral office (societal.)