Brands are Meant for People!

A Book Review by Arundati Dandapani

Brand Hacks is written by Dr. Emmanuel Probst and published by Paramount Publishers (Jim Madden), who I so excitedly met up with at the Insights Association’s NEXT 2019 conference.

Why is it so hard to be good to people?

Maybe it’s because we don’t often know what they want or like. They seem to say one thing and act another way and still consider themselves perfectly rational. What does saying one thing and doing another really mean though? It could indicate our lack of proper reading into consumers’ motives and motivations, likes and dislikes, cultures and values at the very least, mired by loops of context or circumstance. Don’t you find the same challenges when dealing with day to day friends, family, colleagues or neighbours? See! Brands are meant for people, and knowing this is part of what Brand Hacks: How to Build Brands by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning by Dr. Emmanuel Probst is all about.

This book promises to help brands understand their audiences (people) better and stresses on mapping human motivation and pulse to constantly buzz in their radar exuding comfort, delight and utility. It offers hacks to human insight through numerous tips and case studies of application in presenting a strong blueprint for taking your marketing campaigns to the next level. I reflect on some of my learnings below, interspersed with examples and experiences I have observed or encountered for further discussion. I mixed up the geographies to offer a wholistic view sometimes.

Deliver On Pleasure Constantly at Different Levels

In an age of unprecedented distraction, loneliness, and fast moving tech, consumer motivations can best be tapped into by implementing positive psychology through delivering on pleasure (offer instant gratification), flow (help them achieve new goals or skills), deep satisfaction (make enduring impact), meaning (achieve relevance and higher purpose) to meet your consumer’s pursuit of happiness story/dream.

Brands that use joy in their marketing, and those that offer escape (through AR/VR/gaming etc.) are also upping the ante. Check out some examples below:

A PSA by AT&T uses Virtual Reality to deliver a healthy safety message. Does it work?

Car dealerships (Cadillac, Tesla) are investing in Virtual Reality to sell experiences through virtual test drives.

The ad below produced by Zee News uses a Mario-style gaming technique to storytell/gamify India’s budget roadmap for 2019. Games thrive on consumers’ minimalistic instincts/ need for simplicity.

Nostalgia is an escape too (driven by events, characters and collective memories) and helps release consumers from their prison-like everyday rigour and breakneck change. It then makes sense for brands to choose how they wish to offer “nostalgia” to their consumers in ways that delight and honour their connection. How / are you packaging nostalgia in your brands effectively? The caveats are of course packaging bad memories and sounding outdated / out of touch, warns Probst.

Nostalgia is challenging to repurpose or repackage, and part of it might be why James Forr and Dominique Dove of Olson Zaltman say the “sin” of consumer recall is not easy to rely on without the accompanying consumer psychology research in their fascinating article for Quirks.

Check out these two examples where brands package nostalgia differently:

Spotify’s hugely successful Never Ending Story commercialized, reminiscent of this memorable though intense childhood film.

The creators say this ad aimed to capture the innocence of childhood than nostalgia per se – nostalgia can understandably be very loaded, so adopting a minimalist approach with memories too can release a lot of positive psychology.

Consuming Materials, Experience and Purpose

Conspicuous consumption (wherein we flaunted or yearned for excessive wealth and its associated symbols) has been overtaken by conspicuous leisure (where we now flaunt experiences, adventures, desires, and exhale in our excellence at being everywhere all the time better than others through a running canvas of unfiltered aspiration). More leisure time is seen as a better indicator of affluence than wealth or luxury materials. More time allows consumers to feel more affluent and brands that allow consumers to amplify their experiences to social media followers win. Creating hyper-sensory instagrammable brand experiences are a huge marketing opportunity. The Nature’s Nocturne is an example of how a pristine daytime museum with dinosaur reptile fossils and ancient wildlife remains turns itself into clubby millennial hub one night every month offering experiences and memories like dining and dancing with the ‘saurs.

On Canada Day, we visited the The World’s Finest Chocolate Factory outlet in Hastings, Ontario. The special deals below included few items of fine chocolate variety, repeating common flavours in nuts, mints and caramels but custom-packaged for different occasions.

Offering your consumers fewer choices (less is more) allows your business to showcase your uniqueness and what you do best rather than trying to be everything to everyone. Specialize in fewer items (5-6) like crab cakes, or chocolate souffle, or even homemade donuts, unless you are The Cheesecake Factory with over 250 menu items. Curate unique limited-edition items mixing art, craft and fashion for e.g. to overcome the hazards of showrooming (where consumers window shop at your store to later buy online for cheaper).

Offer only three options – good, better and best, suggests Probst. This is what this outlet seemed to do well.

Move from Celebrities to Influencer Networks

In an age of experience driven marketing, influencers matter more than celebrities, and brands must co-create content with carefully selected social influencers. We feel closer to influencers than we do to celebrities, so leverage them well in your marketing plan.

With influencers, focus on their quality of brand engagement than reach as social media platforms can be full of fake followers. Last year Digiday reported posts tagged with #ad or #sponsored generated over 50 percent of their engagement from fake profiles. There are three types of influencers: micro-influencers (500- 10000 followers – with higher engagement rates than top influencers, more personalized, budget-friendly and no fake followers), macro-influencers (10000 to a million followers so higher reach even if lower engagement rates) and mega influencers (over a million followers; these are inaccessible as Hollywood celebrities and ironically less influential).

“Teens are leaving Facebook in droves with only 51% of 13-to-17-year-olds using the platform in 2018 versus 71% in 2015. In comparison, 85% of teens use YouTube, 72% Instagram and 69% Snapchat. With 2.2 billion users, Facebook remains the world’s largest social media platform, buy the disaffection from younger audiences is a leading indicator of where the eyeballs (and therefore media investment) will go over the next few years.” – Dr. Emmanuel Probst, Brand Hacks

Build an influencer network, suggests Probst, and measure success through combination metrics of engagement (click-through rates, conversion) and brand health (awareness, recall, favourability, purchase intent). This will help you track your real ROI on influencer marketing.

You may have heard of 7 year old millionaire Ryan Toysreview (Nancy Farrell first told me about him), this crazy anomaly of a hybrid celebrity-influencer-cult-brand who builds Lego civilizations and plays with all kinds of toys (reviews/tests toys) for money on his YouTube channel. This is next level marketing genius. And this phenomenon of watching people play for money is why also e-sports is going to beat Superbowl viewership by 2040.

You’re never too young (or old) to be an influencer! Start early (or late), but never stop.

Create Authentic Brand Experiences and Journeys

Authenticity and experience remain core strengths in brands like National Geographic, AirBnb and Hotselling International says Probst. I first noticed this phenomenon when a publication like The Nation began offering its recurring Cuba-Trinidad voyage program to readers that included an authentic localized discovery travel holiday package filled with the knowledge-experience it sought to bring it’s readers in news and editorial. The most memorable travel experiences are so immersive that you forget to take photos, and brands that can mesmerize audiences with elements of “discovery, authenticity and adventure” win. Social media envy is here to stay no matter what the channel, so long as there are humans in charge of their internet and devices. Brands know this by now. In a fully automated world, consumers will get too busy living or thinking or bettering their next act or deed to care about such low-grade machine/ device/ moment narcissism.

Consumers are Pickier Today than Before

(And not always because they wanted to be this way, but because they were forced to adapt).

About 150 million people in America and Western Europe have left stable corporate positions to become gig workers. By 2020, 40% of American workers will be independent contractors.

With the rise of DIY work and this trend towards an unobserved minimalism in all spheres of consumer/citizen life, it is easy to see what Probst means when he claims the experience driven economy is being replaced by the purpose driven economy. Which brings us to marketing strategies for the new hubs of “freelancia” – third spaces – I won’t go into this here, as an upcoming guest blogger is dedicating her efforts to this category, but the hint is to tap into consumer values like belonging, community, impact and self-ownership to resonate above the crowd.

Brand loyalty is low, says the Edelman Trust Barometer matched by numerous data sources including the World Values Survey. Pay-as-you-go options work better when selling your products and services in such an environment, where consumers are not bound by prohibitive contracts and have plenty of room to return or opt-out of items or plans they purchase.

Choice overload is a no no. So is purpose overload. Not all customers want all purpose filled brands…

“Sometimes. In some categories. Depending on how it is done. A lot of times they don’t give a fuck. And usually most segments will not pay more.” – Mark Ritson, columnist quotes in the book.

Examples of annoying/fake purpose led campaigns cited in the book are of banks urging you to go paperless to save their bottom lines than to do environmental good, or hotels asking you to reuse your towel to save water but actually doing so only to save on laundry and labour costs, etc.

Can you think of purpose-filled campaigns or ads that attracted or alternatively repelled you? Why?

I had mixed thoughts about this Samsung ad in 2016 – meeting your audience in their moment of truth or compassion is always a challenge. Messages that differentiate and are context-rich enjoy more relevance.

Nike has already established a racy repertoire of cause-driven ads that propel bold visions across many markets; many of us are already familiar with the following peppy and empowered tracks, ordered by date:

Chase Brand Nirvana through Role-Play

The last two parts of this book looks at quest for social meaning (through stories) and later peace and calm / brand nirvana.

“We look for rebels who interrupt our routines and offer us not just purpose and personalization, but a heavy dose of punch-drunk love. We want experiences that are unique and precious; experiences that can’t be scaled and must not be optimized either. In other words, we want romance.” – Tim Leberecht, author of The Business Romantic

This section of the book is about glamourizing the brand making it aspirational and a way of life, socially meaningful. Most brands have done so by working with or improvising the 12 brand persona character archetypes in selling devised by Carl Jung and later applied by Ernest Dichter. Some of these recurring archetypes include:

The hero (courage/victory over evil), the antihero (attracts and destructs evil – E.g. Hulk Horgan), the lover (Eg. James Bond), the outlaw (breaks status quo – Harley Davidson), the sage (National Geographic) and the powerbroker (wields authority and strives to dominate).

Use Improv to Grow and Evolve

When your product strategy demands secrecy until release date you can spin tales that maximize the impact of your secret by communicating the secrecy of the process, releasing clues and telling a story around emotions and events. Tease trailers are common around release dates of programs, episodes or product/ platform launches. Use improv to build your brand.

Brandstage is a discovery experience that helps marketers rethink their brand, modernize it and evolve their creative process. It is reflective of the ancient art of storytelling but also drawing on neuroscience: following the path of how humans think and playing with this to ignore new product innovations, marketing ideas and explore CX opportunities” – Tim Kibbey, Kantar, quotes in the book

Second City the Chicago based theatre company works with brand managers to deliver on not just brand storytelling but also on product/brand uniqueness through improv theatre.

Know Your Brand Story, Glamourize it

Writing a brand narrative is another tried and tested hack to clarify your positioning including: what do you do for customers, how is it unique, your reason to believe, backstory, brand vision and purpose.

Glam up your brand to create excitement sophistication and mystery. Turn an existing concept into a trend, reposition your product to align with culture and amplify your message, be a culture creator (the emergence of third spaces is cited as being testament to this spirit and we see a lot of categories including cannabis as well as travel and other brands that gain from this ethos of “creation”). Use ethnography and cultural immersion as research methods to understand what your audience wants to experience through your brand rather than just focusing on your products’ functionality.

Offer Peace, Gratitude and Mindful Reflection

In overheated time poor worlds of relentless targets and prolonged screen times, a return to slow and sustainable is what defines the search for consumer peace, calm and confidence. Branding wellness into your categories thus satisfies an integral role in the consumer’s quest. Mindfulness is also mentioned as an important wellness practice in corporate health. The global wellness industry is sized at $3.7 trillion according to the Global Wellness Institute. Companies that successfully branched out into this space include The Wellery by Fifth Avenue, IKEA ‘s Hjartelig, and the huge influx of cannabis brands eager to seize a big chunk of the wellness pie. Constellation Brands made a $4 billion investment in Canopy Growth because cannabis is increasingly being perceived as healthier than beer (or any alcohol) says Probst. Consuming cannabis, we know, is already perceived as better than smoking (Vividata Cannabis National Study 2018).

Gratitude, kindness, sleep, mindful meditations, are all important parts of the marketing mix with gratitude ranking high as an influencer of life, client and brand satisfaction. Reciprocity might be the most touted benefit of gratitude but paying it forward is an unrecognized and understated form of reciprocity that effectually glues society in a common fabric or faith. Remember the last time you had a lot of fun at a dinner table, and you had to halt at the awkward moment when everyone was praying before you ate? And how you prayed along because you were just happy and grateful and did not care (so much) what symbol or form the ritual took? Gratitude wears many clothes. You can always offer and identify newer ways to channel gratitude to your stakeholders.

Creating brand ambassador programs (especially those with enduring rewards) are more conducive to longer term customer engagement than loyalty programs or short-term enhancements. Ambassadors can offer your business reach, influence, advocacy and mutually fulfilling partnerships.

If you want to break through as a brand, you must unshackle yourselves from the tyranny of multitasking and start harnessing the joys of mono-tasking in a noisy world. Some brands (and books) are able to offer help consistently whether through mentally enhancing programs, communities or events and digital resources. One of my clients is a strong industry proponent and voice of health-positive work habits. Show your consumers you are improving their lives by actually making an impact. Silence can sometimes speak better than words (or pushy, noisy advertorial / messaging / marketing tactics) advise the author.

The Fall of Faith is Here, You Can Do What You Like With It

With the rise of atheists and religious “nones” around the world led by US and Western Europe, and an overall global decline in brand trust, it is interesting to learn how Probst probes the “new meaning” consumers seek from Google versus God. Is it time for the end of cult-like brands when consumer trust is fragile and flipping at best? SoulCycle or Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.), Facebook, Starbucks are cited as examples of brands that turned consumers into fanatics and devotees. What other brands today do you think still hold a cult-like following / status? Lululemon? Star Trek? Harry Potter? Uber? Others? The last chapter draws a lot of parallels between religiosity and brand devotion assigning roles of the priest, prophet, apostle, ministries and sanctuaries to certain brands.

Elements of “sacred consumption” in marketing include rituals, ritualistic consumption of goods/services, and artifacts (materials used). Cannabis brands are fast moving into this space as they capitalize on this post-sectarian consumer shift where fighting stigma becomes a core “activist” motivation to partake in a product post-prohibition in societies where it is slowly gaining legal status and acceptability.

I came away from this book inspired by the wealth of research and history that surrounds present day marketing strategy, with leads for how to fill the gaps in the marketing cycle for brands I work with. Brand Hacks is a necessary and ongoing conversation for all stakeholders of growth.

To learn more about how Brand Hacks can help your business you can register for an Insights Association webinar with Dr. Emmanuel Probst here and also read more about the author’s views in another interview here.

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