By Chris Staples
Is there any word that better sums up the problems facing late-stage capitalism than “consumer?”
Think about it. This ubiquitous label assumes that people’s sole reason for being is to consume resources, products, brands, calories, debt. It doesn’t really seem to matter what is being consumed, as long as it keeps expanding at a 3 percent rate quarter after quarter into infinity.
By now, most rational people realize the limitations of this world view. The planet cannot sustain 8 billion consumers— especially if they consume at the rates we do. Consumers in the West consume so much that they’re literally about to explode, thanks to the obesity epidemic.
Yet the term still persists— especially in the world of marketing. Look at any deck by any client or agency, and I’ll guarantee it’s riddled with consumerisms.
Don’t get me wrong. As marketers, we’ll never stop selling stuff to people. But we need to change our world view to see people as more than consumers and, well, more like people. People who buy things out of necessity, but also out of a deeper human need: To believe and belong.
This basic need is one of our defining shared human desires. Whether it’s a country, a sports team or a favourite brand, people are looking to connect at an emotional level with others who share their values.
This means forgetting about trying to reach consumers, or clients, or customers. It means mothballing terms like brand loyalist and super-heavy user. First and foremost, it means replacing consumers with believers.
How do you create more believers?
Selling a great product is a good place to start. But it’s more than just what a product does or how it looks. It’s the values that come with it. Quite simply, to create believers, you need to give them something to believe in.
That can be the reason you decided to make the product in the first place. Or the ways you manufacture it. Or the way you treat the people who produce it.
This belief system is just as important as the product itself. It has nothing to do with advertising slogans, or flash, or sizzle. It needs to be real and true and part of a brand’s core.
I’d argue that our first job as agency partners is to help our clients define and articulate their belief system. First to themselves and their own people, and then to the world at large.
We do this by trying to distill everything about the product or service into a simple brand mantra— a couple of hundred words that outline the brand’s belief system in simple, clear prose. A good brand mantra should be much more than a list of attributes or benefits— it should be like a sermon from the mount. A rallying cry for believers inside the company and outside.
Once we have a mantra, our job is to bring it to life everywhere we can—at the store level, online, in social communities and in traditional advertising.
Agencies need to believe too.
It’s hard to create believers unless you believe yourself. In my experience, very few ad agencies think much about this before they start a pitch process. If the client isn’t selling tobacco or asbestos, most agencies will happily chase their business.
We’ve always had simple criteria for new business: Do we believe in the brand? Do we believe there’s creative potential to tell the brand’s story? And do we believe in the people behind the brand?
It’s a formula that’s never let us down.
But what do you think? Is this all just semantics? Or is “consumer” ready to join the dust bin of marketing history?
Posted on January 3, 2013 by Chris Staples, a founding partner and creative directorat Rethink, with offices in Toronto and Vancouver.