Big Value in Expressing Brand Values
April 2, 2021
Part Three of Our Series on The New American Middle—The Center of Everything
Adding New American Middle values to top-down marketing can bring relevancy. Without it, big brands inevitably resort to product features and benefits. Unless the brand is founded on product as the primary driving force (innovation in materials, construction, process, sourcing, and reflection of current trends), a brand has little to talk about except discounting and over-promotion, i.e., the fight to keep sales up at the expense of profits.
Top-down brand expressions can be made even more powerful when we combine bottom-up demographic data and then add particular New American Middle insights.
An example of excellent top-down, bottom-up marketing might be found in the recent Red Bull campaigns. The universal aspiration of “Red Bull Gives You Wings” works for 18- to 35-year-old males, the brand’s target audience. But even so, most of their marketing dollars go into events that are centered on various sporting or music communities, where friends and families go to watch and be a part of something unique, special. I experienced an extreme bottom-up example one night while working late in a recording studio. The Red Bull rep came in carrying a small refrigerator, filled it with Red Bull, and said to call him when it ran out. Needless to say, “full of the Bull,” we all worked later THAT night, but a more effective, bottom-up example of excellent marketing does not come to mind.
Finding one super-aspirational value takes a real understanding of your audience and the tectonic foundations of your customer’s underlying motivational system. Red Bull accomplished that. They inspired jealous marketers everywhere to ask how they could duplicate that kind of genius. As other brands chipped away at them, Red Bull has seemed to stumble a bit. Even so, not many of us can achieve so much, or spend so much, as Red Bull has. Working with New American Middle values provides the rest of us with the ability to become remain/become efficiently relevant at scale, as well as the opportunity for super grassroots marketing.
Large national campaigns are designed for the widest reach possible. But everything is nothing to the NAM. Addressing gender, race, geography, lifestyle, and interests limits what national campaigns can achieve. Understanding the power of the NAM “Core Four” means that these large-scale campaigns can be infused with more meaning than can be expressed through mere product information. The products mean more when they reflect NAM values.
- Paint is just a paint product, until it’s shown how color enhances our family gatherings and low VOC emissions make for a safer environment as we prepare for a new baby.
- A cotton quilted handbag is easy competition, but when it becomes a medium for expression and is positioned as a “girl’s best friend,” it is more than the sum of its parts.
- The fact that tempered glass baking dishes last a long time might reduce regular purchases. But long product life also means environmental responsibility. But wait! There’s more! Include a homemade pie and an oven-safe dish becomes giftable when presented to a new neighbor or as a thank-you between friends. Transcending a low-cost utility object is possible by encouraging gifting. New or long-time friends mean so much more than a pie plate ever could.
Everyone has products and they all compete on price. When a product represents more, it is worth more and leaves behind a good brand impression.
It’s Not All Big Bad News—Consumers Still Believe in the Power of Brand
Even before the upheaval of 2020, consumers had turned their hopes toward trusted brands. A 2019 Holmes Report (rebranded in 2020 as PRovoke) found that “83% of (global) consumers believe brands could play a greater role in providing the stability they aren’t getting from traditional sources, primarily by taking concrete action to abate societal ills.” It may seem odd that brands have been charged with making such a change, but with so many other institutions seen as hopelessly out of touch, the pragmatic realities of brand economics may be seen as a way to cut through the noise. Conscientious capitalism has massive appeal among the NAM. It may provide evidence that being too big is not all bad, so long as being big means the brand cares enough to positively impact society. Consumers still believe in the power of brands, just not in brands that are “too big to care.”
We also realize that there are plenty of reasons why consumers justify the compromises they make regarding core values. I was reminded by a client in the Richemont luxury portfolio that “even rich guys like a deal.” But despite the appeal of a better price for a common product, core values still remain and influence the most important purchase decisions. Given the choice between buying an unremarkable commodity or paying a little more for a similar product, the NAM will tend to buy from a brand that stands for more. The NAM will not just buy from but support that better brand. Consumers check with trusted brands first, look for a deal, but also buy what they want at full price too. Sure, low price often wins, but when there is nothing more to compare between brands than price, then price will always win.
When deciding on which brands to buy from, or better yet, which brands they will support, New American Middle consumers tend toward purpose-driven brands, and even more of them will choose brands that reflect their own values. Even more telling is the NAM’s shift from “me” to “we.” Self-interest drives most of what we do and what we buy, but the opinions of social media “friends” and peer reviews increasingly result in more consumers moving in groups, or tribes. Together they positively influence each other, and when they are disappointed or sense betrayal they take on the characteristics of a mob. Micro and nano influencers have become essential to digital strategists, as they can either bring granularity to a campaign, or turn heel and punish a brand through bad reviews or even boycotts.
Understanding the values and fears of the New American Middle will allow brands to message bottom-up, demographically small and relevant, while they also continue to work at scale and express relevance by reflecting NAM values top-down back to them.
Understanding the values of the New American Middle—their “Core Four” and their resistance to “big” influences—provides a way in.
To further dimensionalize this consumer super group, we’ve begun implementing primary research studies to deliver greater and deeper insights.