A new study by Havas finds that 77% of brands “could disappear” and nobody would care. If that surprises you, it should serve as a welcome wake-up call; it’s high time that marketers stopped thinking of their brands as indispensable – or even important – to ordinary people.
We spend millions on marketing that drives our brands forwards, so it’s easy to convince ourselves we’re changing the world with every piece of creative we develop. But the impact our advertising has on real people is often barely perceptible. We work incredibly hard and exchange vast sums of money to truly stand out, and in the end it’s all so we can shuffle forwards a couple of steps in a consumer’s mind next time they’re making a split-second decision.
Brands are shortcuts; there are too many of them for us to care about to any noteworthy degree. Think about the brands you buy regularly. How often do they cross your mind? Do you even really realise you’re picking them up off the shelf? The age of social media and hyper-connectivity has convinced us we have a close relationship with anybody who double-taps an Instagram post. But people have far more important things to think about than our brands: their ambitions, their loved ones, their mortgage. We rank just below taking the bins out, I reckon.
So what on earth does it mean in 2019 for a brand to be “meaningful”?
The Havas study defines “meaningfulness” as a combination of:
- “personal benefits” (does the brand have a positive impact on your life?)
- “collective benefits” (does the brand have a positive role in society?)
- “functional benefits” (does it do its job?)
The research shows big jumps in purchase intent and advocacy for more “meaningful” brands. The top 15 meaningful brands apparently look like this:
Software, personal care and automotive brands win the day when it comes to being “meaningful” to people’s lives. The cynic in me (who has methodology questions!) wants to point out that washing, going online and driving are things a significant proportion of the population do every single day. Playing a regular role in your customers’ lives is clearly one route to being perceived as “meaningful”. Many of these brands are present in people’s minds often, because they are part of the rhythm of everyday life.
“Meaningfulness” does matter, though.
Because most brands don’t get thought of all that often, purchase decisions are largely fast, effortless and based on feeling rather than logic. Interestingly, this is even true of car purchases, where consumers often post-rationalise their decision with logical excuses (fuel efficiency) but research proves that the buying decision itself is much more emotional. And light buyers – who are crucial for brand growth – think about things even less.
What this means is that brands have to come to mind easily in buying situations, and the feeling you get when they do matters greatly. Meaningfulness can be one route to this – brands can be (and often are) content providers, using content platforms to tell relevant stories and engage with consumers in the pursuit of affinity.
Ultimately, people don’t care about brands. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a conversation with our audience. It just means talking about the things they’re already interested in, rather than talking about ourselves. It means really understanding them and fitting into the rhythm of their lives with ideas and stories that make them feel, briefly, differently about us.
In 20 minutes, they’ll probably have forgotten about us. But by understanding our audience properly – what makes them tick, what their lives look like, and how what we sell can make their lives easier – brands can form real human connections. We just really shouldn’t expect them to give a damn about us when all’s said and done.