At the macro level, the current cultural trends do away with the hyper-rationality we have settled into along with the technological revolution in exchange of a more complex, subtle approach that is far more difficult to quantify and control: spirituality. When we say “spirituality” we are no longer referring to humanistic areas that were always near spiritual values. On the contrary, marketing is the area that responds the fastest to people’s new expectations, and in the latest period, these are spiritual and universal rather than material and personal. Initially, the marketing approach was focused exclusively on the product, which had to be presented in a particular way to attract, while people were reduced to simple consumers. The IT era brought about a different approach focused on people — who, meanwhile, went and proclaimed themselves consumactors, participating directly in shaping the brands — which mainly targeted their ego and emotional nature. And today, the new marketing era is now centered on human spirituality as a whole.
During the industrial revolution, the fundamental marketing concept was based on the development of the product and had a functional approach. In the IT era consumers had adapted to the marketing strategies and could no longer be taken out of the equation. Functionality was replaced by emotions and the consumer became the most important factor in the business relationship. Nevertheless, a new wave of technology has reconfigured the world in such a way that consumers hold control over the brands they feel emotionally attached and brands that they feel they have made an active contribution to. They have imposed their values and forced large companies that want to remain on the market to treat consumers as complex human beings with a mind, heart and soul — to meet not only their emotional needs but especially their spiritual ones (related to values).
Sensorial and emotional brands have been replaced by cultural brands that “aspire to solve society’s paradoxes. They can tackle social, economic and environmental issues in society,” explains Philip Kotler, author of ”Marketing 3.0”. In other words, in order to be a successful cultural brand, you must join the “good guys” that stand against the “bad guys” — global brands which, in the post-capitalist period, received the image of “soul eating” brands that push society to the edge of consumerism (such as Coca Cola, McDonalds or oil companies). An example of a cultural brands is The Body Shop, which had an eco-friendly statement from the beginning, or Ikea, which values the work of Third World craftsmen and is constantly manifesting its care for nature.
Marketing 3.0 came along with “the creative society,” using mostly the right brain hemisphere and whose members have passed the stage of immediate personal concerns. They need meaning; They start in “the pursuit of happiness” and seek spiritual evolution. They don’t just settle for products and services that satisfy their needs. They seek life experiences, they want to have their common values respected and they endorse business models that take into account their ethical values. Companies that perform on this stage are not those with the best market positioning or the highest consumer involvement level in building the brand, but those that display a noble mission, a strong vision and high moral values. “Companies that adopt this marketing style must accept the idea that it is impossible to have an absolute control over the brands. The brands’ mission is now their mission. What the companies can do is to align their actions with the brand’s mission,” Kotler highlights.
This is how brands like Nike need an inner revolution to wash off their reputation for exploiting Third World children forced to work in inhuman conditions, for less than a dollar a day, making high-end sportswear. Just like politicians accused of breaching fundamental values, brands hide behind other values — just as powerful — that they exploit in their favor. Nike moved from “Just do it!” to “Better World,” and in a 2011 spot Nike displayed a very eco-conceptual statement during the first seconds, “This film is made from 100 percent recycled ads.” Then we hear a speech with words such as passion, hope, awareness, communities, global playground, anti-discrimination, anti-war. An older Macintosh ad, launched on Independence Day, follows the same trend under the slogan “The power to save the world,” suggesting that if the consumer were ever to need to save the world, he could do it with a Mac.
A successful brand breathes responsibility and sustainability at the social level: compassion, transparency, care for the environment and justice in the most general sense of the word. Ikea is one of the strongest brands in the world because it did consumer justice by making design democratic. Quality design does not necessarily have to have an enormous price — any house can be beautiful. Ikea is eco-friendly, using a minimum amount of materials, because it cares about the environment (or about its own investment, but this is irrelevant for the consumer). And finally, it values the work of Third World craftsmen and bringing their products into the homes of Westerners.
In order to be successful during a culturally sensitive period, you must want to save the world. Be it “saving the world from cavities” like Colgate, wanting to turn it into “a better place” like Virgin Mobile or “teaching people to sing,” your mission must have universal value, and it must be noble and authentic. You cannot pretend. Marketing 3.0 is one of transparency, compassion, “of universal love” and justice you defend “body, heart and soul” if you want to make a profit.
Read part I of Ana’s series “Homo Economicus: Chronicle of a Death Foretold” or part 2 “‘Squeeze a tear’ – Businesses Outshine the Hyper-rational Ones”.
Ana Iorga has graduated from the Medical University, attained a double degree, in Finance and Marketing, within the Romanian-Canadian MBA’s courses and is now pursuing a PhD in neuromarketing within The Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies. She is the founder of Buyer Brain (the first neuromarketing research laboratory in Eastern Europe). You can follow her on Twitter @ana_iorga.