What Marketing With Meaning Can Do for You

Book Excerpt: Marketing with meaning can help companies reengage with today's consumers

"Now that technology has liberated consumers from the tyranny of the networks and the advertisers that support them, they are exacting their revenge by exercising their freedom," writes Bob Gilbreath, in The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connecting with your customers by marketing with meaning. "And, as in any newly democratized society, there is no going back to the old way of doing things."

In this excerpt from The Next Evolution of Marketing, Gilbreath explains how marketing with meaning can help companies reengage with today's consumers:

What if we started over? What if we threw out the textbooks and the flowcharts and rose above the snazzy jingle, the celebrity bribe, the empty sizzle, and the ad accost? What if we stopped trying (and failing) to be all things to all people and instead tried to create something of meaning? What if we stopped interrupting people to tell them how great our products are and actually did something to prove our greatness?

I believe that in a world in which consumers can actively choose to avoid marketing, the only way to win is to create marketing that they actively choose to engage with. Akin to the industry-altering signi?cance of direct marketing in the 1950s and permission marketing in the 1990s, marketing with meaning is the next logical step in an evolutionary process. If direct marketing was about approaching strangers individually, and permission marketing was about turning strangers into friends and friends into customers, marketing with meaning is about improving customers' lives through the marketing itself.

Direct marketing was widely adopted in the 1950s, thanks to bulk postage rates, cheaper mailing materials, and the use of some of the first computers available to businesses. The concept offered several unique bene?ts as compared to broadcast media like print and radio: companies could reach out more speci?cally to the individual households that most interested them, they could include much more information by mail, and they could begin to measure the responsiveness to individual offers, a breakthrough in judging return on marketing investment. For consumers, direct marketing by mail or phone brought some added value-it provided more relevant messages and offers, along with some freedom to ignore the sales pitches altogether. But the industry also abused people's phone lines and mailboxes at an early stage. No wonder the term junk mail was ?rst used in 1954.

Permission marketing, as mentioned in Chapter 1, is the brainchild of marketing maverick Seth Godin, and it succeeded in tilting both the advertising playing ?eld and the relationship between marketers and consumers in the people's favor. Permission marketing is what created (and continues to drive) the expectation that we shouldn't, can't, and won't simply interrupt people with marketing via e-mail or phone unless we ?rst ask them and are given their permission to do so. Permission marketing represents a distinct improvement over the traditional "tell and sell" approach to marketing, but in many ways it has made our jobs harder, as it has fueled consumers' desire and motivation to opt out of marketing altogether.

Marketing with meaning is the antidote to opting out; it adds value to people's lives people's lives independent of purchase-which, as it turns out, is far more likely to win their business. It's marketing that is often more meaningful than the product it aims to sell. It's Samsung, providing not 1 but 50 eight-foot electrical charging stations for cell phones and laptops at LAX and JFK (with Dallas-Fort Worth, LaGuardia, and Orlando next in the queue). It's Charmin, underwriting restrooms in Times Square, providing, shall we say, a much-needed service in exchange for the opportunity to connect the toilet with the tissue in people's minds. It's a company that makes matches-a commodity, to be sure-that partners with a grill company and sponsors a "stop, drop, and roll" ?re-safety program in elementary schools, creating marketing that is far more meaningful than the simple ?ame the match produces.

What can marketing with meaning do for you and your business? Our research at Bridge Worldwide and dozens of successful projects for our customers show that the more meaningful people find your marketing, the more they'll be willing to pay for your stuff, the more of an investment they'll make in it emotionally, and the more motivated they'll become to spread the word. This means that you'll be improving your customers' lives, your bottom line, and the world at large.

Admittedly, the word meaning carries some baggage; some people believe that it narrowly suggests cause marketing or that it calls for the abandonment of conspicuous consumption, neither of which is true in our use of the word. Here, meaning translates to "personal value." What people ?nd meaningful is very personal, and this chapter will demonstrate, in particular, how marketing your brand can be meaningful in different ways, to various degrees.

Of course, this suggests that meaning can vary from person to person, which is frankly part of the point-your brand probably has a unique target market that's different from mine. A teenage boy ?nds a sexy, funny viral video amusing, while the rest of the world turns up its nose. A person with diabetes becomes deeply engaged with articles about how to manage her disease, while the rest of the world has no clue to-nor any interest in-what an A1C is. Although meaning can vary by brand and target, I have found in our work with clients that true marketing with meaning has two consistent traits:

  1. It's marketing that people choose to engage with. It involves creating something that people find is worthy of their time and attention, rather than continuing to look for ways to cleverly (or not so cleverly) interrupt them.
  2. It's marketing that itself improves people's lives. Many a marketer goes to bed at night, proud to support products and services that add value. Indeed, they may remove tough stains, put a smile on faces, or enable priceless purchases, but we too often utilize the old interruption approach to present these products and services to our customers. Instead, we must create advertising that actually adds value-without necessarily forcing a sale.

An initial fear for some is that the idea of "meaning" is too high level and far away from the dollars and cents that people are most concerned about during this dif?cult economy. Brands feel pressured to go back to traditional TV commercials with product-bene?t and value messaging to connect with price-sensitive buyers. But practicing meaningful marketing is at its heart about understanding consumer needs and delivering value through the marketing itself.

As you will read in the chapters ahead, free samples and offers are strong examples of meaningful marketing, but in today's economy people are still responding to cause-related campaigns and sustain-ability messages. The new bottom line for consumers is that they expect more from their brands on many levels-and this model will help your company bring marketing itself into the value equation.

The best way to illustrate the value of meaningful marketing is to look deeply within pioneering brands that are charting a unique but consistent course. Dove, Nike, Burger King, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America are but four examples of major brands that are executing this new approach in truly significant ways. They have abandoned interruption, created marketing that people choose to engage with, connected with them in a variety of innovative new forums, and successfully launched meaningful campaigns that have positively affected both their numbers and the quality of life of the people they're targeting.

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About the Author: Bob Gilbreath is chief marketing strategist at Bridge Worldwide

Excerpt from The Next Evolution of Marketing (Mc-Graw-Hill), copyright 2010. Reprinted with permission.