Brands must be better at delivering Emotional Benefits not just promising them.

Maslow's Hierarchy

Russell Parsons wrote an interesting article in Marketing week last week discussing Alain de Botton’s view that while much advertising appears to offer us perfect lives their brands and products then fail to deliver. Alain’s argument is not that the products advertised fail to do what they are supposed to – the new watch will be very beautiful, very stylish and even keep accurate time – but that the advertising awakens within us deep seated psychological desires “they show us families that are happy together, lovers who remember to be grateful, friends who delight in one another’s company” the advertising is very effective in relating these emotional rewards to the goods that they sell – unfortunately the watch does not actually make our life any better.

This is not a new observation, but what caught my attention about de Botton’s view was that he is not criticising the industry for overselling but simply arguing that brand owners need to step up their game and start to deliver the psychological benefits that their advertising has, for years, been promising. He argues that capitalism succeeds when it delivers what consumers want. He goes on to argue that we are “in the odd position of having rather too much of everything: shoes, dish cloths, televisions…” but that the economy cannot be called properly mature if we as consumers are not able to find the things that make us truly happy.

It is an interesting argument and challenges us in regard to what we are trying to achieve with product improvements, new products, brand extensions etc. We cannot dismiss his argument with the bland statement that “things” will never make us happy (after all our advertising has been implying that they do for years now) we should in fact be thinking about how our “things” can make our consumers happy. Technical improvements may make our product perform better, faster, make it smaller, last longer etc. consumers may even like this improvement, but do we understand which attributes of our products actually make our consumers happier and how we can improve these?

Even a brief consideration of Maslow’s hierarchy shows that there is plenty of scope: The first two levels ‘Physiological Needs’ and ‘Safety’ are largely about “things” to feed, clothe, support and protect us. The next two levels,  ‘Love and Belonging’ and ‘Esteem’, are more psychological than physiological but from a marketing perspective can often be seen as, at least partly, being delivered by ‘the meaning of things’ – the well-considered gift, a family day out, a shared meal, the expensive watch, the nice clothes…  Even at the top level of ‘Self Actualization’ products can play an important role – I cannot be the best athlete without great running shoes, to be the best cook I can be I need the best ingredients…

De Botton is arguing that our communication has made these connections since the 1960’s and it is now time that we, as brand owners, focused on how we can improve the way that our brands actually deliver these emotional benefits to our consumers…

Are you and your brands fit for the challenge?

Russell Parsons’ article in Marketing Week

Alain de Botton

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