People are increasingly leaving their previous places of belonging. The past decade has witnessed seismic shifts in society, driven by the proliferation of smartphones, the ubiquity of social media and the rise of remote work.
These changes have reshaped the way we perceive ourselves and construct our identities. Traditional affiliations, such as religious groups, are waning in influence, particularly among the Gen-Z demographic. Whether they recognize it or not, people seek fresh avenues to define themselves and find new ways of belonging.
In the vacuum left by organized religion and other former ways of belonging, brands have become the new badges of identity. Individuals are piecing together their identities from the brands they identify with. It’s a reflection of their values and aspirational lifestyle. In essence, brands have become the storytellers of our lives, and people are embracing this shift in stride.
Today’s brands are not merely selling products or services; they’re being embraced as integral components of our identity. As entrepreneurs, this paradigm shift presents both a challenge and an opportunity.
Whether brands asked for this role or not, they must acknowledge the authority being bestowed upon them. Consumers now expect more than just products or services; they seek meaning and purpose in these affiliations.
So what can you do today to embrace this moment and become more intentional about the good you introduce into your customer’s lives?
Step 1: Identify your customer’s aspirational identity
You know your customers. You know the problems they have. You know where they live, their income bracket, and what they value in the buying process. But we need to take customer personas one click further. We need to know who they want to become.
Yes, they might want your product, but what do they want behind that wanting?
This is where Theodore Levitt’s quote comes in handy. Levitt, a Harvard Business School marketing professor, famously said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
Your customers don’t want your product. They want what your product brings them.
I’d take it even further. They don’t want a quarter-inch hole; they want to hang a shelf. And they don’t even want the shelf; they want to organize the garage. And they don’t even want to organize the garage; they want to be the type of person who can do hard things. And beyond that, they want their spouse to be proud to be married to the type of person who can do hard things.
We start with selling a drill bit and end with a happier marriage.
What does your customer want behind their wanting? Who do they want to become? And how can you help them get there?
Step 2: Define your brand values
Taking that fresh discovery of who your customer wants to become, you can begin to position your brand specifically to help unlock that new truth in them. You can reverse engineer your brand values to match who they want to be someday.
If your company sells drill bits, your brand values may include “efficiency” and “integrity.” Those both apply to the drill-bit business and your customer’s aspirational identity.
“Efficiency” keeps things structured and clean. If you’re organized, it saves you time, and your tools last longer, ultimately saving you money.
“Integrity” applies to the strength of the drill-bit itself, but also fixing things that need fixing, making time to finish the job, and being a good partner in your relationships.
Your brand values quickly become your customer’s personal values.
Step 3: Give your customers mantras to live by
How do we make these values memorable and easily embraced by our customer base? We turn them into mantras. Instead of singular words as your values, you conversationalize them. Turn them into fortune-cookie-type phrases that are memorable and fun to say.
Instead of “efficiency,” your brand says, “Measure twice, cut once.”
Instead of “integrity,” your brand says, “Do the right thing, even when no one’s watching.”
If you do this across all of your company’s corporate values, you drastically increase your customers’ likelihood of embracing these same philosophies.
And your brand’s importance in their lives solidifies.
As leaders of companies, we wield a platform, and the question is, how will we use it? I believe the answer lies in embracing our role as meaning-makers. Don’t shy away from this opportunity. Embrace it. We have the opportunity to shape positive narratives and help individuals become better versions of themselves. What an honor. It’s a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly — but also can be fun — making the world a better place, one brand at a time.