George Bradt once said in an interview with PR Smith in 1994, that “people don’t buy product. They don’t buy packages. They don’t buy brand names. And they most certainly don’t buy advertising. They buy the sum total of all those things…”
25 years later, those words still ring true.
Consumers today, more than ever, buy from brands that they connect with. Brands that exude an ideology that aligns with their personal beliefs; about themselves and about the world around them. This is especially true when we look at consumers in the younger generations (i.e. Millennials and Gen Z’s). But why this steady shift in how we see product and brands? What factors have caused consumers to consistently decide that how a brand makes them feel is more important than what the brand actually does?
Take consumer reactions to Apple for example. The brand has engaged with their customer base so deeply that they can do things like take away earphone jacks from their phones and USB ports from their laptops, and yet still have droves of people lining up to buy their next big thing. They can take away functionality, increase prices, and still have loyal followers. Why is that?
Well, it’s because they make their customers believe, through a combination of advertising, brand language, and clever PR, that they are different and (because they use Apple products) they are special. So it doesn’t matter that HP offers better value or that Dell makes a better laptop, these brands don’t connect with consumers the way Apple does.
So what can your brand take away from these lessons learned? Let’s dive in…
Consumers want authenticity and transparency above all else
We live in an age of skepticism. In a recent survey, Deloitte's discovered that “younger generations believe that only 48 percent of businesses behave ethically — down from 65 percent in 2017 — and that only 47 percent of business leaders are committed to helping improve society.” So what can your brand do to counter this cynicism? Be authentic and transparent. Use clear and understandable language in your terms and conditions, make your corporate structure easy to find and accessible to the public, and establish a clear business model that both your employees and customers can understand.
Consumers want to find their tribe
Apple disciples are loyal to the brand because they believe that they are a part of something bigger. They don’t see the products they buy as just products; they see them as an extension of themselves. Building your identity through your purchases is nothing new. In fact, psychologists in the 1970’s were already theorizing that buying certain brands helped people “reduce discrepancies between their actual and ideal self,” thereby increasing their self-esteem; decades later they are finding in studies that this “self-congruity” was a major factor in brand loyalty. So do your research, find out what makes your customers tick and align your products and brand accordingly.
Consumers want brands who have the same values
To form a relationship with customers through shared values, your brand has to have values to begin with. However, that doesn’t mean your brand needs to be born with values (i.e. TOMS and Patagonia), it just means that you have to face the challenge of choosing values that your leadership can commit to and that you can orient your entire team around. Remember that these values have to be rooted in truth. These are the values that will align with and inspire your audience. The goal will not be to simply show them what you care about but to offer them encouragement to seek their own potential.
So if you’re looking to build a brand that consumers can believe in, take these factors into consideration and use them as building blocks to your brand’s belief system.