Photo by Rodion Kutsaev

Brands in selling-mode are losers — those connecting with likeminded people win

Simple as that. Welcome to the Internet.

The following is a summary of a week I spent with DMJXKK18 students at a BA program in advertising / marketing.

People never liked salesmen. They might trick people into buying a product. And yes, they are a bit funny and charming on the way. That was how advertising of the past felt like. Gladly we have ad blocker today. We don’t like that kind of stuff. We don’t like promises being made and not kept.

What we like are companies contributing real, true value to people’s lives. We like:

  • Airbnb saying “Belong anywhere”. And making that happen.
  • Google saying “Google is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. And making it happen.
  • Uber saying “Uber is a global urban infrastructure for shipping and logistics”. And they make it happen.
  • Facebook saying “Facebook is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”. And they do that in many ways.
  • Amazon saying “Amazon is a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” And they make that happen.
  • SpaceX saying “1. Put things into space. 2. Reduce cost of space travel. 3. Colonise Mars.” And things are happening in that direction.
  • Tesla saying “1. Build sports car. 2. Use that money to build an affordable car. 3. Use that money to build an even more affordable car. 4. While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options.” And they deliver on that.
  • Patagonia saying “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”. And they do it.
  • Apple saying “Think different”. And they do.

For fashion companies it might not be a “brand promise” but a “brand point of view” which is their contribution to the world.

  • Burberry — “Britishness”
  • Aēsop — “The philosophy of a balanced life”
  • Everlane — “Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.”
  • Glossier — “Skin first. Makeup second. Smile always.”
  • Balmain — “Young and with racial variety”
  • Bing Bang NYC — “There’s this vision I have of this girl, that’s just the right amount of tough and sweet.”

You can also call this “brand essence”. The core of the brand. What the brand is all about. The reason you exist. The “Why?”. The “pursuit”. The “purpose”. (And today you define and articulate it from the people’s perspective.)

You need that! You need to know the value you give to the world. You need to find your true value. And yes, you deliver on it.

The hard part is finding that value of a brand. Twitter hasn’t found it yet. Therefore Twitter is struggling. If you don’t know what is great about you how then should others know?

Connecting with people

When we find the value we raise that flag, and through the Internet some people on the planet will find us and connect with us because they are likeminded and they will raise the flag with us. In other words, the way a brand connects with people is through its value (the brand promise or brand point of view, and the delivering on it). (It’s not so much the quantity of people we reach but rather the strong personal connection with a few that matters.)

At the start it’s ok for a brand to just talk about it.

… And to put it into different words.

… And filling Instagram and other digital channels. (Let’s talk about content here.)

Olivier Roustein, Creative Director @ Balmain

… And not only Instagram but everywhere you like.


… At the same time delivering on the brand promise. Yes, share that as well. (And to deliver matching with people’s expectations you need to add value massively. We can talk about that another time.)

That is what branding was all about, why we created brands. Somehow marketing / advertising had gone a wrong path, had gone into selling-mode. Now in the digital era the real, true value of a brand is back and up and more important than ever. It’s the way brands connect with likeminded people, it’s how they use the web.

So goodbye “selling-mode” and welcome “connecting with likeminded people over shared true value”.