Give them something to believe in
Somewhere along the line, listing the options, specs, ingredients or features (no matter how fancy) weren’t enough to convince buyers anymore.
And so brands started tapping into benefits. We painted an aspirational future for our customers— one where the new shiny software, skincare product or app would make them more efficient, confident, healthy or motivated.
And now? This branding cake just got another juicy layer.
Don’t think better, think bigger.
Brands today aren’t just selling a product or service, or the features and benefits that come with it. They’re selling a way of life, a way of being, a worldview. They’re offering a shift in identity for their customers by giving them something to believe in and belong to.
Because, when there are infinite choices available, and we can’t see a noticeable difference between them, we’re going to choose the one that reaffirms the identity we desire.
Take WeWork for example. They have beautiful co-working spaces around the world and while the features are very cool (from espresso bars to fitness rooms) and the benefits are equally alluring (a quiet place to work away from home) it’s the bigger belief in creating shared communities that creates a more compelling narrative. They’re creating “a place you join as an individual, 'me', but where you become part of a greater 'we'”.
The attraction of WeWork is about belonging to a community of like-minded startups and hustlers. And this belief about community support and shared resources is echoed in their offerings— from regular social events, to childcare and their move to create dorm-style living spaces (WeLive).
And it’s not just them.
The Ordinary shifted the paradigm in the cost of beauty products, and in doing so empowered their customers to know and understand the ingredients and methodology in their skincare routines. Their advocates are now beauty connoisseurs, swapping elaborate skincare routines and tips online.
Airbnb isn’t just another accommodation website listing amenities. They recognised a trend in their customers to travel not to ‘get away’, but as a way to develop a deeper understanding of different cultures and of themselves. Their ‘belong anywhere’ narrative made customers believe that they can feel a sense of community and inclusion wherever they go. Now they are more than an accommodation site, but a directory for experiences too.
Bulletproof might have become known for its unusual way of making coffee, but the brand is about more than that— it’s about taking control of your biology, optimising your life and increasing your longevity.
And LEGO is more than toy building blocks, it’s grounded by belief that we should play at every age.
Change your identity, change your habits
From an internal perspective, these beliefs shape every strategic decision in a company. For the brands I listed above, their products and services don’t shape their brand. Instead, their brand (and the belief that underpins it) shapes their products and services.
And for those that buy from them, these brands have mapped a new layer of meaning to every purchase. In the case of Bulletproof, you’re not just buying a supplement, but the belief that you can take control of your own biology and the identity of a ‘biohacker’, someone who wants to optimise their performance. Each purchase is a signal of what you believe, who you are or who you’re becoming.
This is the subtext behind a brand. It’s not always spelled out on a website or written in a statement. But it’s still there— in every touchpoint— from imagery to ambassadors, customer service to packaging. And it’s powerful in swaying our brand choices.
James Clear talks about the power of identity shift in his book Atomic Habits.
“What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously). To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. You need to build identity-based habits.” (Read full article here)
If a brand purchase signals a shift in our identity, that change could have a much bigger, more lasting impact on our choices, habits and behaviours.
What do you believe in?
The tricky part, and maybe the question you’re asking yourself is ‘how the frig do I work out what my brand believes in?’
Maybe you already have an idea (it could be the belief that triggered you to start your business), but if you don’t, consider these questions—
- What do I want my customers to believe (about themselves, about my industry, about their future)?
- How do I create meaning in my customers’ lives? What bigger role/impact do I have beyond my product and service benefits?
While features and benefits are still incredibly important for your marketing, this extra layer of meaning can help your customers understand how your brand can fit into their lives.
I hope this has given you some food for thought about the power of your brand to positively impact your customers. Let me know your big takeaways in the comments!
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