Brands that succeed fulfill a consumer’s search for meaning


 Emmanuel Probst, VP of Media & Content at Kantar

This year again the advertising industry is expected to grow by almost 4% to $563 billion, according to GroupM’s forecast. Consumers are exposed to as many as 5,000 advertisements per day, yet can hardly remember one of them. To make things worse, brand loyalty is on the decline as people switch to a competitor’s product or a Private Label on a whim.

Meanwhile, there is increasing pressure on agencies and advertisers to prove the Return On Investment (ROI) of their colossal advertising budgets.

Enter programmatic advertising, which allows marketers to better target audiences and provides a plethora of lower-funnel Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). When following this process, marketers focus on the tactical outcomes of campaigns and tend to lose sight of the strategic brand assets.

Yet there is a way for brands to grow and foster loyalty, without spending exponentially on advertising. It starts with accepting that consumers don’t care about most brands. Instead, they are on a quest to find a simple, but an essential thing: meaning. As consumers, we interact with others, buy products, and experience things to resolve the tension between who we are and who we want to be or how we want to be seen.

The meanings that we search for can be grouped into three categories:

  • Personal: Who are we and who are we trying to become?
  • Social: Where do we belong and who do we matter to?
  • Cultural: How do we fit in and/or influence the world around us?

Brands that succeed are the ones that act as shortcuts to resolve these tensions by helping us find meaning. In this process, brands become meaningful in and of themselves. Importantly, helping consumers find meaning is more impactful and sustainable than plastering consumers with expensive advertisements and potentially damaging media tactics.

There are three best practices to follow to create a meaning-centric brand:

  • In the early stages of campaign development, you should put aside your product and your brand. First, you must uncover the meanings your audience is trying to fulfill. To bring these meanings to light consider projective techniques, such as collages and scrapbooking. These techniques enable participants to materialize meanings that are subjective in nature. Then craft your product and its value proposition around the specific meaning it is aimed at fulfilling.
  • When tracking the performance of your brand and product over time, do not limit yourself to measuring standard KPIs such as awareness, consideration, and Purchase Intent. Make sure you also capture the cultural fit of your brand and its ability to fulfill meaning.
  • Finally, emphasize in your campaigns the meaningful attributes of your brand and not only its functional aspects. Airbnb doesn’t just provide accommodation. It fulfills our quest for discovery and adventure. Polaroid doesn’t just sell cameras. It taps into our longing for nostalgia and reassures us about the future. WeWork doesn’t just rent office space. It provides an ecosystem for its community of entrepreneurs.

Now it is your turn. How does your brand fulfill a consumer’s quest for meaning?

About the Author

Emmanuel Probst is a Vice President, Media&Content at Kantar. He counsels a wide range of Fortune 100 clients on advertising effectiveness measurement and optimization. Emmanuel also teaches Consumer Market Research at the University of California at Los Angeles. His first book “Brand Hacks – How to grow brands by fulfilling people’s quest for meaning” will be released in April 2019.


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