In Live Better Part 1, I explored how the promise of a better life underscores a significant part of modern marketing. It might not always be overt, but the commitment is there. Why is this promise the common thread? A better life? Well, that sure sounds like wellness, doesn’t it?
There are two tactics when it comes to marketing: one is The Carrot and the other is The Stick. The brand whose promise is alleviating pain and discomfort is using The Stick to drive a desired behavior. Said more plainly: it’s the easy route. The promise of removing difficulty in the life of a customer is ultimately what spurs purchasing.
As for The Carrot, we all know the message: “we manifest additional richness and happiness into your life when you buy from us.” You’ll be a better person. Buying from a brand is practically a virtue.
Carrot-shaped messaging naturally resonates with customers. If you subscribe to Maslow’s Hierarchy, these two forms of brand messaging cover the entirety of the pyramid. That is to say, people’s main goal is to have a good and meaningful life.
So what’s the problem? They’re vapid if siloed. Isolated messaging without context results in failure to deliver on the message because every person is different. Even when people are similar, their situations will often merit different responses. Selling the promise of wellness can’t be achieved without having an understanding of the role of a brand in your customer’s life... and then engaging in discourse and education - of both your internal brand and of your customers.
Discourse leads to understanding, and understanding to enlightenment. From our seminal piece Rethinking Brand Power Structures:
Many marketers think that permitting, demanding, and motivating are your options for controlling a person’s behavior. [Philosophopher Michel] Foucault might argue that the outcomes of these types of initiatives are nearly impossible to predict because power structures are too complex, too nuanced to understand. Instead, discourse and passing of knowledge are the only way to wield power.
SILOED = SELF-INFLATED
Marketing is hyper-focused. Many brands have approached their customers with messaging that says “We solve X problem for you (and make your life better)” or “We add to the richness of your life (and make it better)”. The only thing that matters to that brand is solving the problem through selling their product. Like a talented university professor who struggles to consider that their students have other responsibilities and obligations outside of their class, these brands might be correct about product claims, but they’re not considering the whole of their impact on their customers’ lives.
It’s like building an ecommerce website. That third-party augmented reality app that touts a 25% lift in conversion sure looks tasty, and they have a plugin that works with your ecommerce platform out of the box to boot! Of course, you go install the plugin and—wait for it—they didn’t test their plugin against the UGC app you already had installed. Not to mention, you spent money on AR when you should have spent it to fix the content management problem that is actually permanently harming your brand and causing your conversion rate to dip.
People have other stuff happening in their lives. Buying the newest Nikes might be fun, exciting, and legitimately better for a customer’s feet but maybe they need to pay their medical bills with that $150 instead. Most marketers don’t even consider these implications of making a sale, even in considered purchase situations. Instead, we’re all too happy to offer solutions to help stretch finances, push people down the funnel, and make them feel good about the purchase when it happens.
It’s not just finances, it’s also time and attention. It’s emotional investment and talent. The naive way marketing works today is to be oblivious to customers’ individual contexts. Sell, sell, sell.
FOCUS ON CUSTOMER IDENTITY
In The Existential Brand, Part 2, I wrote about the importance of a relationship-driven, evolving brand identity:
The question is, will you expand your brand’s identity to serve that community growth, or will you stay pigeon-holed in a static rut?
Identity that begins and ends with our own brand is a dead-end—a surefire path to decline and bankruptcy.”
While focused on driving brand identity through community and customer instead of being purely self-driven, this is still self-focus. For brands to really address wellness, they need to know their own identity but also their customers’. The call to action shouldn’t only be “come join our community,” but also a question: “do we - should we - have a role in helping you achieve your goals and live the life you want to live? Perhaps you should join our community.”
Left alone, a “self”-focus isolates. Left alone, an “others”-focus drains.
EDUCATE VS EDGE OUT
If wellness is described as the best possible outcome for a person’s life given their circumstances and if—as concluded earlier—this is people’s aim for life, then wellness is actually a function of capitalism and is, in fact, its ultimate goal.
Said again for effect: the chief end of capitalism is to enable all people to enjoy their best life. This understanding of the invisible hand actually shows why it has the power to flip markets and change behaviors and upend governments and move mountains. Anyone who tries to define capitalism as something else is trying to gain or maintain power. Any other perceived goal will eventually result in an imbalance of trade that will destabilize the system and ultimately cause collapse and unrest for all parties involved. Customer relationships destroyed, demotivated labor, tanking stocks, brands ruined.
Therefore the most effective capitalist is the one who sells goods for a fair price, which were fairly manufactured, for reasonable profit, to people who aren’t failing to fulfill their other needs and responsibilities to make the purchase. Speaking in hyperbole, it’s almost as if the best capitalist is the privatized socialist.
If your aim is building a business in a society based on capitalism (such as ours), don’t look for an “edge” over your competition through more obviously harmful solutions like uninformed bean counting, or sacrificing people’s quality of life, product quality, or relationships or even less nefarious things such as tricks and grey hat solutions or even slick and well run and executed yet siloed and self-serving campaigns. Instead, focus on listening, educating, deliberating, and adjusting.
Our system breaks down when people don’t know, understand, and/or believe the truth about the impact of their purchases (on others, the environment, themselves, etc), leading to false beliefs about how to spend their money.
Education of what makes for a good purchase is in fact the ultimate edge. The successful brand will listen to and educate their customers about the impact of their purchases and help them understand where the given vertical is at and what needs to happen for it to be better. The informed consumer can fully participate in the cycle of fair trade.
Education, discourse, revision. These are the tools of a true capitalist.
In Rethinking Brand Power Structures, I relented to the practicality of discourse:
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t optimize, measure, and plan around what is “working”. There’s money to make now and there are known levers to pull to get there. Also when you lack the skill set or resources to accomplish key aspects of building your business, it’s better to rely on best practices than to do nothing at all or do things poorly.
I recant. The truth is—in the age of information, education and discourse should inform your entire content, marketing, and sales strategies and we see this being played out through techniques like guided commerce, content to commerce, community platforms, UGC platforms, CDPs, personalization and more. Ad spend, marketing campaigns, sales function properly when in service of these functions.
When you get to know your customers, listen to them, share with them - you may find yourself even discouraging their purchases at points. Then when they do make a purchase, it will be for the right reasons, at the right time, in the right way.
That’s true wellness, and it will lead to sustainable growth.