NANCY’S BLOG: Marketing IS Value… vs Promising It.

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With Black Friday specials already on store (+ warehouse) shelves, my children and I hit the mall yesterday. And this lure of shopping has inspired the Play Big Inc team to turn our attention this week to the big shifts in the practice of Marketing itself.

Years ago I developed a model of Branding that mapped how technology, media and changing cultural expectations have and will continue to shape brand narratives; moving from an emphasis on Competitive Attributes (Brand 1.0) to Target Affinities (Brand 2.0), we are now squarely in an era where trust is garnered by focusing on a Brand’s Values (Brand 3.0) and are trending toward a desire to see these Beliefs in Action for society’s benefit (Brand 4.0). As such, how has Marketing evolved along the way? 

Back in the day consumers needed information (functional and emotional) to help ensure a smart choice. Marketing’s job was to explain how a given product or service was going to deliver something of value to the target audience. Marketing promised value. This was achieved, and achievable, because consumers needed to trade their attention to ads for access to entertainment or information. These audiences were aggregated by a concentrated media that allowed (and even required) singular messages of broad appeal to reach the majority of the country.

The landscape has changed fundamentally in two ways:

  1. An era of endless entertainment options and digital technology has put us in charge of our time and focus, empowering us to avoid content that doesn’t align–and to often create our own. Is it really possible that that every 60 seconds, 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, 48,000 apps are downloaded on iTunes and more than 347,000 tweets are posted on Twitter?!
  2. And importantly, as HBS professor Youngme Moon, author of Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd, insightfully points out, the harder brands compete, the less differentiated they become; ironically, as they innovate faster, “quality differences shrink and brand loyalties fade.” Despite all the money being spent on innovation and advertising, we are increasingly in a land of parity performance, diminishing brand preference and the continuing rise of private label.

Add to this the conversation we raised recently about eroding brand Trust, and it’s no surprise that as business shifts from transaction to relationship building, Marketing is also shifting from selling a promise to actually providing something of value. Brands will increasingly need to demonstrate both their benefits and their beliefs by entertaining, empowering, connecting and/or rewarding users in meaningful and tangible ways. 

Offering value can take many different forms, from producing highly engaging branded content–here’s a collection of great examples from Red Bull, GoPro, Microsoft (yay, Mike Pell!) and even Oscar Mayer–to “storydoing” vs storytelling as Ty Montague describes. It also means inviting “prosumers” in as co-creators…and even empowering them as activists, as both Chipotle and Patagonia are passionately doing.

Brands can also be facilitators, championing our desires and giving us platforms – such as Intel’s Make it Wearable Challenge or Delta’s “sit with an Innovator” matchmaking effort (because really, how precious could that time on plane be if you were sitting next to the right person?). Beyond the products and services they sell, when you think about it, what assets and capacities do all brands uniquely have that could vastly improve my day… or even my life? I’ll throw in one more favorite example, State Farm’s Next Door cafe/”market research center” in Chicago; three years later it is still offering extraordinary value for both the neighborhood it serves and for the company itself.

Sometimes this geniune desire to be valuable takes a surprising turn as Fast Company reports that many empathetic brands are helping us buy less! As they see it “Supermarkets will deliberately sell us fewer products in smaller packages. Automotive brands will stop selling us cars and start selling us access to mobility services. Financial services brands will help us to spend less money to stay within our means. Insurance brands will charge us lower premiums based on our individual behavior, not actuarial tables.…All in the interests of building the loyalty that comes from being understood and not trying to manipulate us into using more than we want or need.”

Think about how much publicity CVS received when they decided to give up $2B in revenue by no longer selling cigarettes? Or how valuable RadioShack could actually be if they used their ubiquitous neighborhood stores to actively build community among “makers”; this an idea Matthew Schutte and I are working to advance because we believe each and every brand can and will move from being an enthusiastic (though often narcissitic) megaphone to becoming a much more useful and compelling platform.

As we look forward to this new economy, what differentiates this era of Marketing is an authentic desire to serve; what assets and capacities can we share? And a shift from promising to committing; what do you (as a user/buyer) believe and how can I help you amplify that? 

We wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving! It is my favorite holiday every year, both for its democracy and emphasis on connection, but also because no matter what crazy curves life tosses our way, there are infinite reasons to be positive and incredibly grateful. We count you all among the list of blessings we’ll be celebrating. Thank you for always sharing your ideas, your work and your support so generously.


Nancy (and Emma)

Ps – I think we’ll take this week off to focus on our families and whip up a mountain of mashed potatoes. See you again on Dec 7th.

Stories we pinpointed this week:

From Selling to Services

Brands as Content Channels

Benefits of Co-creating with Your Customers

Patagonia is Turning Customers into Activists

The Power of Storydoing

Brands that Help Us Spend Less, Not More

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