So “thanks for the psycho-babble and vegetable genetalia imagery” I hear you say. Well if you are a marketer and don’t fully understand the human decision making process, (beyond Buyer Behavior 101), then you are effectively guessing as to whether your brand concepts and communication will be received by your market as intended.
Some of the top performing brands are not there by chance. These brands have recognized that to affect human behavior, decision making and personal preference structures, brand communication must do more than just follow the tried, tested and very temporary communication procedures that appeal to that of the human ego.
Marketing to the human ego is called “egoic marketing,” and involves any message that appeals to a person’s sense of inadequacy or superficial desire. Maslow would have referred to this form of marketing, as communication appealing to “affiliation or esteem needs.” More recently, behavioral psychologist Robert Cialdini would, I imagine, liken this form of influence to “social proof.”
One of the most obvious examples of egoic marketing is seen in luxury car advertising: polished silver, shiny black leather and overt expressions of jealousy from the Jones’ or the couple next door. For decades now we have watched brands advertise concept after concept that are supposed to evoke feelings of inadequacy with our current lot in life and fuel our desire to have more or better in order to be more of better.
So why do so many brands appeal to this perceived sense of need, lack and competition? Go and find a 15-year-old girl and ask her about what is important to her. This should give you an insight into this particular marketing rationale. The values that are most prominent during our teenage years are all about projection of personal image. Teenagers care more about what other people think than they do about almost anything else. The development of personal identity and insatiable search for approval occupy the majority of a teenager’s time, resources and energy.
In the 1980s, Corporate America hit its teens and as such dictated values to its business and cultural partners of materialism, greed and financial obsession. The mid-1980s coincidently were also the years that many of today’s leaders developed their understanding around human influence and business.
Emphasis on the projection of egoic based image was well accepted by brands and customers alike in the 80s as people bought into the concept of “he who appears to have the most win.” However this way of thinking steadily lost impact as western society embraced the concept of “one life” and “lifestyle.” People are now less interested in projecting images in general, particularly ones that reflect an obsession with money over lifestyle. Making loads of cash to gain the imagined admiration of those around us when we are old and decrepit is now the realm of dinosaurs lost in their own misplaced identity.
Unless you are marketing luxury cars, tweed jackets, cigars or Champagne, then look closely at the changing values of your market.
So what does this all mean? It means that many brands are for one reason or another pressing a button covered in cobwebs instead of the hot one when appealing to their customers. It means that in general, humanity follows trends and the more recent trends indicate that people are making choices based on more genuine and authentic needs rather than the perceived need to impress others. It means that the best performing brands are those spending the time and resources to deeply understand not only stated customer needs, but also pre-empt specific needs based on human trends. It means that if you are reading this article and are engaged with communication partners stuck in an egoic positioning war with your competitors, than your brand is competing on the wrong playing field.
Brussels sprouts are only ever going to be Brussels sprouts. Whether people buy them due to a concept conjured by a well communicated value proposition or simply because they just like the taste, one thing is for certain, less people these days will be carrying a bag of sprouts home to be the envy of the neighborhood. More people are buying because they genuinely want something rather than buying because they think others do. In today’s market, ego is a dirty word.