The Pursuit of Brand Happiness
Not long ago, a few companies realized something profound about the human spirit in its pursuit of meaning and purpose. Then they quietly began to reinvent their reason for being in order to bring “meaning” to the lives of the people who buy their products.
From that point, through masterful imagery and tricks of the advertising trade, new promises were made about fulfillment in life. Their marketing shifted from merely attempting to get people to think and feel a certain way, to a proclamation of a better way to live by way of a “brand experience,” thereby creating loyalty through the brand and not simply to the brand.
These are big promises to make, and even bigger to keep. When I drink soda, for example, the only experience I encounter is sluggishness and an increase in my waistline — not the refreshing euphoria promised by one particular cola. But the pursuit of brand happiness presses onward from presentations of product features to portrayals of product/human interaction.
Brand marketing self-indulgence might appear to be the right path to bliss but, I promise you, it only leads people to a shallow existence. For example, “It’s everywhere you want to be” typically ends up translating to something like a $400 blender from Bed, Bath & Beyond. True significance comes through self-discovery — helping people do more and be more. Companies that matter in people’s lives empower them to see and act outwardly.
Enter nonprofit organizations
Nonprofit organizations are beginning to realize this more than anyone else. Their brand experiences are unsurpassed. Saving a life, curing a disease, fighting poverty and ending hunger all are roads that lead to true worth. With that in mind, some organizations understand their constituents are, in fact, “co-creators” of their brand promise. So much so that these nonprofits boldly are declaring that their wonderful acts of compassion will go undone unless purposeful and like-minded individuals step forward.
These top charities focus their marketing on inspiring passion — not only to change the world for now, but for all time. In doing so, they offer the highest calling to anyone who seeks such an endeavor. As a result, their brand promise becomes the core message to attract and bond people to their cause.
But too many organizations focus their core message on their internal processes, such as distributing, coordinating, managing, constructing and facilitating, while the most powerful thing they have to say is left unspoken. People become inspired to join causes because of the impact of nonprofit processes, not the processes themselves.
When nonprofits speak about their own processes, it’s similar to when profit-driven companies speak about their product features. It’s interesting, but why should I, as a consumer, care?
For some organizations, the idea of allowing constituents and donors to become equal partners in the marketing equation is too risky. Unfortunately, at some point their perspective became distorted in terms of whose responsibility it is to steward our culture and strive to make it better.
People who become involved with nonprofits see the world in a certain way; they’re looking to become a part of something larger than themselves. They have a desire to join others who value and want the same things they do. This is why some organizations constantly remind their constituents/donors of their vision, the big idea that everyone (organization, constituents/donors) is working toward together.
The more nonprofits present a clear, concise, consistent message and invite people to stand side by side with them to realize their brand promise, the more effective they will be at positioning themselves for the future.
Once organizations realize their most powerful approaches to brand marketing, they must focus their communication efforts on the five audiences of a brand. For nonprofits these audiences are internal (staff, board members, volunteers); external (donors, whether individuals, foundations or corporations); public (potential staff and donors); media (the press, both online and off); and beneficiary (those entities that are helped by the nonprofit).
My defining moment as a donor came with little fanfare one cold and rainy morning at a local high-school running track. However, the event was certainly spectacular, as the person in whom I decided to invest crossed the finish line. During our celebratory embrace, he whispered in my ear, “I did something important.” Suddenly I discovered the true meaning behind the name “Special Olympics,” and I was never the same from that day onward.
Later that night, before closing my eyes on a very good day, I said to myself, “Today, I mattered.”
Few things in life are more important, or more powerful, than leading people to such remarkable moments of self-discovery. In doing so, you will create brand loyalty beyond your dreams. And our world certainly will be better for it.
Todd Baker is vice president of marketing and brand development for Masterworks.