We already know there may have been some hidden wisdom in Mitt Romney’s “Corporations are people” gaffe. The very reason corporations would do well to function more like people is that they serve people; however, it is easy to lose sight of this when those people—your market—become aggregated into sales, impressions, views, tweets and likes. The truth is that underlying those market-level behaviors are individual people trying to better their lives. We know this because at The Center for Positive Marketing at Fordham University, we’ve studied it with V-Positive, our comprehensive measure of consumer value. Yes, markets are people too! The more that businesses see it this way, the better for everyone.
In our research we’ve found a strong link between the positive impact a brand has on people’s lives and brand performance. So, to help you consider markets in human terms, here are seven essential elements of market anatomy:
The most fundamental thing that people seek in consumption is basic nourishment. While countless brands—from your local farmer’s market to Whole Foods to the Wal-Marts and PepsiCos of the world—aim specifically to keep people’s bellies satisfied, there’s almost always an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives by making a difference in their bellies. Swedish meatball, anyone?
Skin offers protection from the environment, but people need more safety and security. How can your brand fortify these feelings? Financial products promise such peace of mind; but after years of violating the market’s (read “people’s”) trust, fortification has become a laceration. While generally we have observed a strong correlation between the positive impact a brand has on people’s lives and brand monetary value, among financial-services brands, brand monetary value far outpaces the good those brands have done for their clients. No wonder the wounded market reacted so viscerally to Greg Smith’s public resignation from Goldman Sachs. But the need for security hasn’t gone away, and smart brands like Wal-Mart and Hyundai have stepped up, providing a valuable safety net in tough economic times.
3. Ears and Mouths
Humans are social animals; and marketing can be a powerful conduit for people’s relationships. Social networks like Facebook and service businesses like McDonald’s give people a place to connect, but so do less obvious brands. Though Microsoft is sometimes berated as a lumbering giant, we’ve found it to be among the front of the pack here, with V-Positive respondents consistently ranking it among the top 10 brands that satisfy their social needs. Just look at what they’ve built with their Xbox community.
People want to puff their chests out a little bit and feel good about themselves. Marketers can help them. Infomercial marketer Beachbody has busted that genre by literally helping people puff out their chests, sweeping Capitol Hill in the process, while on the other end of the spectrum, wine connoisseurs, foodies, fashionistas and the like find confidence in their product expertise, a mutually beneficial way for marketers of any type to help people feel good about themselves.
Can you help people realize their ideal vision of themselves? In our research we’ve found technology brands to perform well here because they are instrumental in people’s goal pursuits in all areas of their lives. Take Google: Want to learn how to run faster? Google it. Perform better at your job? Google it. Play guitar like a badass? Google it. Non-technology brands have succeeded here too. Campbell’s, for example, saw an uptick in helping consumers at the outset of the new year, when many were trying to idealize their diets, using soup as a tool, or the tool, in their arsenal. The unifying theme between Google and Campbell’s is that both are instruments for people’s achievements.
Sometimes people just want to unplug and take a break from goals, relationships and so on. This is a nice idea…that brains hate. People have a need to keep their brains focused, even when they’re trying to relax. Aimlessly browsing the web doesn’t help, but books and casual games do. In this light the move toward experiential marketing approaches is a positive one. The “gamification” of brands—like Red Bull’s Kart Fighter racing game—is good for people, as is the immersive take on retail. In V-Positive, Apple rates among the best brands in delivering engaging experiences; Apple keeps its retail customers engaged and earns a just reward in the process.
People live for the moments that touch their hearts and make them truly happy, ephemeral and fleeting though those moments may be. Nowhere is the personal perspective on markets more important than here. Google has hit the nail on the head several times in its “Search Stories” videos; c’mon, you didn’t even come close to shedding a tear at the end of “Parisian Love”? At the same time, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have both been successful at showing how they can provide a moment of levity in an otherwise ordinary or stressful day. Happiness doesn’t have to be the only thing on offer, but adding a little slice of it in people’s lives can go a long way. In V-Positive consumers consistently rate Google, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s among the top 10 happiness-inducing brands, ratings that are in step with these brands’ impressive financial valuations.
So remember the human qualities of your market. By connecting with customers on human terms, everyone stands to gain.
By Luke Kachersky, Ph.D. and Dawn Lerman, Ph.D. Kachersky and Lerman are, respectively, project coordinator and director of The Center for Positive Marketing at Fordham University, and are faculty members of the university’s Schools of Business.
Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com