By Roy H. Williams
Most branding campaigns are costumes worn by advertisers to the Media Masquerade Ball. They were the hot ticket during the pretentious Baby Boomer years when blue ribbons were awarded to those with best costumes, but look around and you’ll see that we’re moving into an era of transparency. The only thing offensive these days is phoniness.
Just as idealistic Baby Boomers taught their WWII parents to see the world differently, our own children are introducing a new perspective as well. My impression is that this new attitude can be summed up in the phrase, “Cut the crap. Keep it real.” No, that’s not quite it either, because the new attitude isn’t belligerent toward posing, hype and exaggeration. It simply ignores them.
But of one thing I’m certain: to succeed in tomorrow’s marketplace, your brand must revolve around who and what you really are. You’re going to have to let your customers see you real.
Please don’t assume I’m speaking only of how to reach “cynical and jaded young people.” We’re seeing clear indications that this new attitude has already begun to creep deep into the hearts and minds of adults 35-64.
In the past, decisions to purchase revolved primarily around features and benefits. All you had to do was explain – intellectually – why your product was better than your competitor’s. But as the overall quality of products got better, we became less concerned about buying a bad one and a new criterion was added to the list. Now we’re seeing decisions to purchase based on sympathetic vibrations, shared values, an alignment of perspectives. Today’s customers are no longer just buying what you sell; they’re buying who you are.
The argument could be made that “it’s always been that way when there was no meaningful difference between the products, as in Coke versus Pepsi,” and I would agree except for one little thing: in the past, advertisers had only to claim to stand for some misty-eyed claptrap and idealistic Boomers would choose the product. “Coke wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, and furnish it with love, grow apple trees and honeybees and snow-white turtledoves... I believe in world peace, too, so I’ll buy Coke instead of Pepsi.” (Hilltop TV ad, 1971) Run that ad today and the steely-eyed question would be, “What has Coke actually done to facilitate world peace? Nothing. Coke is a phony poser.”
As the final reverberations of the Baby BOOM fade over the horizon, we’re starting to hear the language of the new branding. And it’s the sound of real.
Are you ready for it?