Is It Possible to Create Marketing with Meaning?

Can we bring authenticity and empathy to the way we connect with customers?

Does it even matter?

Recent evidence suggests it does.

“40% of those polled by the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018 believe the goal of businesses should be to ‘improve society’. This is seriously worth pondering. By 2020, millennials will make up 40% of all consumers, influencing about $40 billion in annual sales. ”
— ‘The future of business? Purpose, not just profit’ — World Economic Forum

As consumers become more aware, more connected and more empowered by technology than ever before, traditional marketing principles are changing.

Consumers can review products and compare with their peers long before they engage directly with businesses. That puts them at a great advantage.

Marketing methods that rely on manipulation are becoming less effective as consumers become more sophisticated, and as marketing workforces are populated by younger, more idealistic talent.

Now is a time of reckoning.

Old models are being challenged. We can’t engineer our customers’ pressure points any longer.

Our customers are re-evaluating what matters to them in the midst of the saddest and strangest year of our lifetimes. While cities burn, civil rights are demanded and the COVID pandemic continues, they’re all evaluating life from the basics up.

How do I pay my bills? What will happen to the future I thought I had? What does it all mean for my children?

Spend is a fundamental part of this evaluation.

What do I do with the life I have left?

What can money buy that I really want or need?

To respond, we can reframe our marketing efforts to become a channel for truth and empathy with our customers, because we care. And because they’re people, just like us. Dare we introduce such vulnerability?

Purpose, Courage…and Profit

There’s nothing woo-woo about such an approach. Companies embracing purpose are reporting positive numbers.

Unilever brands leading with purpose report 69% faster growth than the rest of the business and are delivering 75% of the company’s overall growth.

Patagonia’s 2011 Black Friday campaign is an infamous example. The ethical outdoor clothing company ran a campaign featuring one of its products under the provocative heading ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ — a rousing call to inform people of the cost to the planet of manufacturing one of its famous fleece jackets, and urging consumers to consider a used item instead.

This aggressively paradoxical approach saw the company grow its revenue grow by 30% to $543 million in 2012 the following year. By 2018, the company was estimated to reach roughly $1 billion.

Patagonia’s tight coupling of marketing and operational purity has made it a leading light in purpose-driven business.

Imagine how that must feel.

Not every company has to set aspirational social or ecological goals but a sense of purpose that is authentic creates a trusting exchange between you and the people you want to engage.

“Ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability and purpose drive 76 percent of the trust capital of business, while competence accounts for only 24 percent.”
— Edelman Trust Barometer

Emboldening Our Values

Ignore your inner cynicism and embrace everything that is right and true about your business.

If we care and respect our fellow humans enough to create products that serve them and humanity then we should write about them, their fears, their struggles and their joys in a way that brings us together.

Now is the time:

— To take small business principles of family and fellowship and share them with the world.

— To align ourselves as business owners and marketers with our own inward purpose and banish any sense of incoherence between who we are and what we do.

— To recruit creative, empathetic people and to introduce vulnerability.

We don’t have to be embarrassed to show our highest selves. We don’t have to militarise our workforces. We can choose to connect and focus on everything that brings us together, rather than anything that drives us apart. Marketing can be a powerful medium to do that, for ourselves and our businesses.

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Ciara McVeigh

Ciara McVeigh

Thoughts on meaning, mothering, life and writing.