The Great Recession saw the fall of big empires, especially, but not limited to, the banking industry, such as Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Enron. These companies cheated their customers through false branding in the context of capitalistic clientelism. This resulted not only in an economic crisis, but also in a crisis of trust. Consequently, consumers became more aware of how they were spending their money and what they were actually buying. In short, they became more aware of the relevance of their choices.
For a long time, consumers just followed their hearts, opting for aspirational brands that offered experiences that were both functional and emotional. We are used to hearing about brands like Starbucks: Starbucks doesn’t just sell coffee; it offers a unique experience. This value proposition attracted many consumers looking to enjoy a relaxing atmosphere with classical music and free Wi-Fi while sipping a pricey cup of coffee. However, British customers complained when they learned of the company’s tax evasion policy. Similarly, Steve Jobs claimed that Apple’s dream was to change the world through technology. His vision radically transformed the personal computer and music industries. Nevertheless, Apple did not monitor the exploitation of Chinese workers at Foxconn, one of its main suppliers. In the same vein, Volkswagen´s “get happy” commercial lost its ability to emotionally connect with consumers after the emissions scandal.
The instinctual consumer behaviour based on short-term goals pushed brands to communicate their promise through an emotional message. The main concern of branders and marketers was convincing consumers through neuro-marketing techniques. They thought it was cool. Today, emotional branding just one part of the equation to build a successful brand, but it is not enough. Consumers want not just functional and emotionally appealing brands that speak to their minds and hearts, but also authentic and meaningful brands that can win over their souls and spirits.
Why? Two new drivers are emerging: the digital revolution, with social media as its flagship, and the rise of the conscious consumer. Tired of the empty brands of corrupt corporations, disappointed with brands that form part of the problem, angry with democracies that are not held accountable, consumers are reacting. One way to be heard is by choosing a brand that you trust. This means that the demand for authentic, meaningful brands is in vogue. The world may be flat, but brands cannot be if they want to regain consumers’ trust.
The future of brands is written in 4D: consumers want to buy brands that offer not only functionality and emotion, but authenticity and meaning as well. Philip Kotler’s marketing 3.0 addresses this change. Disney anchors its authenticity in its values. It delivers on the promise of ‘using our imagination to bring happiness to millions’. It inspires us. It enlightens souls. Moreover, since Disney is aware of the responsibility in the raising of children, it contributes to promotes empowerment, gender equality and positive role-models. Disney has become a meaningful brand not only for children, but also for adults as well.
A meaningful brand allows the consumer to identify with the company’s higher purpose. This is the highest level of trust: when a brand speaks to the consumer’s spirit. For example, Patagonia is not just a quality (function) brand for adventurers (emotion). It stands for the values of freedom and respect for nature (authentic), and it represents a new way for a clothing brand to minimise the human impact on the environment (meaning).
In the light of the 4D paradigm, a new question arises for marketers: What do companies need to create meaningful brands? Here is the key:
- Discover your own spirit by being true to yourself and asking how you would like to make a difference.
- Create a unique corporate philosophy with a higher purpose that has a positive impact on society and/or the environment (meaning).
- Connect your brand to leadership, driven by universal values shared by your stakeholders (authenticity).
- Engage by designing together with the consumer. Listen to your target and identify its most important self-realisation needs. Then use them to create and deliver value.
- Be patient. Put values first; the profits will come later. If you love marketing and making change happen, you don’t have to hide your spirituality any longer. Brands need you more than ever, for the sake of a sustainable world.
Article written by DrJosep Maria Coll, Director of the International Master in Sustainable Business & Innovation at EADA Business School.