Patagonia doesn’t market itself like your company does. Patagonia spends almost no money on traditional advertising, and when it does, it typically does so in a way that makes its competitors shake their heads. For example, a few years ago Patagonia ran an ad telling its customers not to buy its products. Last year it sent a truck on a cross-country tour where seamstresses would not only repair your Patagonia clothing for free, they would repair any clothing, even if it was from a competitor.
Patagonia does everything it can to stop you from buying its products. And its efforts have been a colossal failure. The privately-held company is not only growing, it’s growing faster than its founder wants it to.
“I am faced with this ‘growth’ thing. We could be a billion-dollar company in a few years, and it’s not something I ever wanted or even want.” – Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard
“I’m Fast, and There Ain’t Nothin’ You Can Do About It”
Consider this broadcast commercial from Nike that debuted last month:
This commercial breaks two long-accepted beliefs of what makes successful advertising:
1 – The belief that people don’t like commercials. There’s been an entire cottage industry pop up around helping consumers skip or avoid commercials. Yet this commercial from Nike had over three million views on YouTube within the first week.
2 – The belief that you have to sell something. This commercial never advertises a product or service, and there’s no call-to-action at any time to buy either. Strip out a few quick and almost subliminal appearances by the Nike Swoosh logo, and you would have no idea what company was responsible for this ad.
But something is being sold here. Maybe it’s the dream that every child has when they play mini-midget or pee-wee football that one day they will be the next Peyton Manning or Julio Jones. Maybe it’s the dream that a mother or father has for their child to see them one day become an NFL success.
Nike understands that every child has those dreams, and what it is selling is how its products can help make that dream a reality.
Nike’s marketing focus for this commercial isn’t its products, it’s what its customers are passionate about. That instantly makes its message more interesting and appealing to its audience.
“The Challenge of My Life Is…To Find Out How Far I Can Take It”
And then there’s Red Bull. Long heralded as the poster-child for successful content marketing, Red Bull does little to promote its actual product. Instead, it promotes the activities its customers are passionate about. Even to the point of sponsoring ‘extreme sporting’ events and teams, helping to push forward an entire industry. Red Bull’s customers can see that the brand is just as devoted to the sports and events as they are, and this makes it easier for these customers to become more devoted to Red Bull as a result. Red Bull understands that it’s not about selling its energy drink, it’s about selling what happens after you drink it.
Most of us view marketing in the same context. As being boring, repetitive, and a nuisance to be avoided. Yet in the hands of brands like Patagonia, Nike and Red Bull, marketing becomes something else entirely. Interesting, engaging, and even inspirational. Great marketing doesn’t sell a product or service, it inspires us to change ourselves, to even change the world.
Why the Disconnect? What Are These Brands Doing Differently?
One of the main reasons why I wanted to write Think Like a Rock Star was because I was enamored with how easily rock stars can create and cultivate fans. And when I say ‘fans’, I am talking customers that literally are in love with their favorite rock star. I wanted to write that book to determine if brands could create fans using the same methodology as rock stars. I was thrilled and delighted to discover the exact process that rock stars use to create fans, and how brands can do the same. It’s all in the book.
On the same note, for the last few months I’ve been fascinated with how brands like Patagonia, Red Bull, Nike and Pedigree simply create better marketing than most other brands. I wanted to deconstruct what these brands are doing differently to determine if there’s a pattern and a process that your brand can use to improve its own marketing efforts.
Recall the AIDA model of measuring advertising effectiveness that we all learned in college. The ‘A’ stands for Awareness. It’s the starting point, a potential customer has to be aware before they can have Interest and the Desire to Act, ie purchase your product.
This is where most brands deviate from those that create truly effective marketing like Nike, Red Bull, Patagonia and Pedigree. Most brands begin at the starting point of making sure that they make potential customers aware of its product. They sell potential customers on what the product does, and use that as the basis for making the case for why you should buy it.
Brands like Red Bull, Nike, Patagonia and Pedigree do something radically different. They don’t start by trying to make you aware of their products, instead they try to make you aware of how their products will fit into your life and make it better. The focus isn’t their products, it’s your passions.
Patagonia isn’t selling clothing, it’s selling what you will do while wearing its clothing.
Red Bull isn’t selling an energy drink, it’s selling what happens after you drink it.
Nike isn’t selling shoes, it’s selling how you will be better at the sports you play while wearing its shoes.
Pedigree isn’t selling dog food, it’s selling happier and healthier dogs.
You don’t market your product, you market how your product fits into your customers’ lives. Too many companies market their product and assume that the customer can make the connection for themselves as to how that product would be relevant to the customer. Quite frankly, this is incredibly lazy and ineffective marketing. The smart companies are the ones that understand their customers enough to understand their passions, what stirs their souls. And they take this knowledge and create marketing messages that tap into these passions, and that make the connection for the customer between their passions, and the company’s product.
If you focus on the things that your customers are passionate about, by extension your customers will become more passionate about your brand. The key is to market things that your customers are passionate about, that also relate to your product. Nike promotes being active in sports because it sells the equipment you’ll need to perform those activities. Pedigree promotes happier and healthier dogs because it sells the dog food that’s going to help your dog live a happier and healthier life. But customers are more passionate about being active than they are about a running shoe. They are more passionate about creating a better life for their golden retriever than they are about your dog food. Nike and Pedigree understand this, so they focus on their customers’ passions first, and the connection between those passions and the product, second.
In fact, most brands prioritize its marketing communications in this order:
1 – Sell the product, what it does and why it works.
2 – Sell how the product fits into the customer’s life.
3 – Sell ideas, beliefs and causes that customers are passionate about, that also relate to the product.
Most brands focus almost all of their marketing efforts on #1, with a bit of #2, and almost none of #3.
But the brands that truly create memorable marketing communications flip the order:
1 – Sell ideas, beliefs and causes that customers are passionate about, that also relate to the product.
2 – Sell how the product fits into the customer’s life
3 – Sell the product, what it does and why it works.
There’s two important point to realize about both these approaches. If you focus mostly on the product itself, many people will immediately tune your marketing messages out because you haven’t yet made the case to them for what your product is relevant to them. Also, your message will immediately be classified as being a ‘marketing’ message, and most of us immediately ignore any message that we view as being ‘marketing’.
Second, if you focus instead on the ideas, beliefs and causes that your customers are passionate about, that instantly makes your ‘marketing’ message relevant to your customers. You immediately perk their ears up and they will listen to what you have to say. Also, you are creating that Desire to learn more about your product so your customers will be motivated to do their own research on your product. And let’s be honest, we all want to support and advocate for companies we believe in. If your brand shows me that it can connect with me around the ideas, causes and beliefs that I hold dear, I will feel better about doing business with your brand.
So what’s the formula? What’s The Passion Principle for your brand?
First, you have to know your customers well enough to know who they are, and what’s important to them. What you want to do is find the connections between your product, and your customer’s passions. This isn’t always obvious, and typically requires research on the part of your brand. For example, Fiskars didn’t realize how popular its orange-handle scissors were with its customers in the scrapbooking community until they started talking to those customers. This knowledge caused the brand to shift its marketing focus away from the scissors (product), and instead focus on scrapbooking (customer’s passion). By shifting its marketing to focus on the passion of its customers (scrapbooking), the brand became more interesting and relevant to its customers. BTW, Fiskars just reported that net sales increased by 62% in Q3 for 2015.
So in order to create marketing and content that your customers will love, start by asking (and answering) these questions:
1 – What are our customers passionate about?
2 – What are they trying to accomplish?
3 – What problems do they need to solve?
4 – What roadblocks are in their way?
5 – How does our product relate to any or all of the previous points?
The fifth point is probably the most important because it’s not enough to simply understand what your customers are passionate about or what their problems are, you also need to understand how your product is the solution to that problem. Otherwise, you’ll be focused on ideas, passions and beliefs that might be relevant to your customers, but that aren’t relevant to your product. Which means your content and marketing won’t be as memorable or relevant to your customers.
Case in point: Name your 5 favorite Super Bowl commercials from last year. It’s tough, isn’t it? I bet you’re struggling to remember even one, aren’t you? Yet every year we’ll see Super Bowl ads that make us laugh or tug at our heartstrings, but unless the message is relevant to the brand, it’s difficult to remember.
Now here’s another test: What brand did the ‘So God made a farmer…’ Super Bowl commercial from a couple of years ago? I bet its easier for you to remember that Dodge was behind this commercial, right? Why? Because a Dodge truck fits into the life of a farmer. It makes sense because farmers need trucks to get their work done, so there’s a connection there that works.
If the connection makes sense, then the content or marketing message will resonate and be more effective. Remember, you don’t market your product, you market how your product fits into your customers’ lives.