Now, just like all good communities throughout the history of time, the marketing community has evolved. In the late 60s – and we continue to see this focus from marketers worldwide today – we spent a lot of time looking at our products and services as brands. (Granted the activity of branding goes much further back than the 1960s, but branding as we define it today originated with the exponential rise in popularity of information distribution: print, radio and television.)
A brand is a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that trigger a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.
Seth Godin, December 2009
There are a couple of things to consider when we combine both Seth’s definition of a brand and Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
First, in positioning our products and services as brands, we have moved businesses to the third and fourth rungs in the Hierarchy: Love/Belonging and Esteem.
As a consumer, knowing (albeit subconsciously) that a brand stands for something – an expectation, a memory, a story – you start to consider whether or not you actually want to be a part of that experience and acquire whatever status or reputation it bestows upon you. Should we choose to take part in this experience – to feel it for ourselves – we now become part of a community; we share the stories and the memories. We essentially add to the value of the brand; or take away from it depending on the outcome of our interaction(s).
As a brand, Seth’s definition clearly demonstrates that YOU are looking to create stories and build relationships!
For both the consumer and the brand itself, branding hinges on motivational cues in the love/belonging and esteem realms suggested by Maslow.
Secondly, the brand triggers a consumer’s decision to choose its product or services over another. To a certain extent the precious value of choice touches on all three of the higher rung motivators in Maslow’s Hierarchy, even self-actualization. I suggest this, not with a unicorns are real sentiment, but rather because – especially in certain industries and product lines – the choices I make as a consumer are made because I believe they help me achieve my goals, dreams and ambitions.
Branding empowers consumers to choose.
And therein lies a lot of fear, doesn’t it?
We have created a differentiator so powerful, it bestows the power of choice onto our audiences rather than ensuring our own control over the volume of product or service we sell or the revenue that we make. For businesses this realization may have translated to a slow nudge in the opposite direction of the Hierarchy of Needs. Businesses may be slipping back onto the Security rung where they continue to struggle with acquiring and keeping resources of all kinds, while trying to grow revenue and acquire a larger market share for fear of not being able to survive the economy and the changes in the world today.
Considering that consumers and businesses appear to be going in separate directions, we may be experiencing some difficulties, wouldn’t you agree? Not usually the best way to build and sustain relationships!
Give some thought to your audience and your business. Where do you find yourselves on the hierarchy of needs? Are you in the same place? Moving in the same direction? Are you a match made in heaven? How is your brand working as a powerful differentiator that will align your reasons with those of your audience?
The true marketing revolution will elevate the role of the business from making money to satisfying consumer needs and desires to making genuine contributions in their communities (local, national and global).
In Part IV, I’ll suggest a slightly different primary shape for the Hierarchy of Needs and from there, the discussion (I hope) will go on!