What people REALLY buy when they buy anything

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This is the latest in a series of posts from one of our longtime partners Taan Worldwide - a global network of carefully selected independent advertising & communications agencies. Taan member Stephen Moegling is a partner at Franklin Street, a health care and digital branding consultancy based in Richmond, Virginia.

Here he unpacks our recent Global Trend Briefing on THE FUTURE OF BETTERMENT - providing his take on some of the key issues facing health and wellness in 2016 and beyond: where are consumer expectations heading? And how can brands help customers fulfil their dreams of self-improvement?

Stephen Moegling on our one of our latest Global Trend Briefings, THE FUTURE OF BETTERMENT.

My first ad agency job out of college was writing copy to sell paper towels. I was taught to sell benefits, not features. Who cared if the paper towels were triple-ply? I made sure people knew these paper towels could soak up a kid’s most disastrous grape juice spill.

I also sold facial tissue, frozen dinners and tires. I made sure to tout how soft the tissue felt on a nose, how easy and convenient the frozen dinner was to warm up, and how you could feel safe having your family roll down the highway when you drove with my client’s tires. My first ad agency job out of college was writing copy to sell paper towels. I was taught to sell benefits, not features. Who cared if the paper towels were triple-ply? I made sure people knew these paper towels could soak up a kid’s most disastrous grape juice spill.

I sold a lot of paper towels, tissue, salisbury steak and tires. But until I read Trend Watching’s April Trend Briefing on The Future of BETTERMENT I had no idea that I wasn’t emphasizing the benefits that people really wanted—what people really buy when they buy anything.

When TrendWatching documented the six trends shaping the evolution of health and wellness, they identified that “the brands that they’ll (consumers) notice, engage with, love, are those that help them be the people they want to be.”

Help people be who they want to be. This is at the heart of the BETTERMENT movement that TrendWatching is documenting.

I love this mega-trend.

In fact, it’s an insight that’s not unlike what Maslow taught us back in 1954 when he first published his Hierarchy of Needs motivational model. The top of the pyramid (beyond immediate needs like food, shelter and safety) is Self-Actualization: personal growth and fulfilment.

When TrendWatching documents Headspace’s Meditation Pods placed in public spaces for busy commuters to stop and have a moment of mindfulness, or Kit Kat, the candy bar company, offering free public back massages via tiny, vibrating motors in billboards, I can’t help but wonder: could I have sold more tires if I found the self-actualization principles inherent in my former client’s goods and services?

Headspace Meditation Pods - THE FUTURE OF BETTERMENT, our recent global consumer trend briefing

I’m not being flippant.

As someone who has spent his entire professional career finding ways to make emotional connections between brands and consumers, it’s my job (and I suspect yours too) to look for the invisible connections between humans and brands.

Earlier today I had a conversation with a colleague whose last job was marketing credit cards. At his former firm, they’d often have “inspiration sessions” where they’d review cool campaigns outside of the financial services industry to stoke ideas on how to better market their company’s credit cards.

Inevitably, the cynic in the room would raise his hand and say, “It’s great that the sneaker company did that awesome Facebook campaign…but we’re in the most heavily regulated industry in the country…we can’t do jack.”

Maybe.

My clients these days aren’t tire companies or facial tissue manufacturers. I work in health care (almost equally as regulated as the financial services sector). Most of my clients are hospitals. The future of BETTERMENT is ready-made for my clients. After all, hospitals are in the business of life and death.

And yet.

Hospitals—like your brand, probably—are under intense pressure to show ROI for their marketing dollars. You could point out to your clients and colleagues TrendWatching’s report of the fascinating partnership between Starbucks and Philips. They teamed up to create EnergyUp cafés in the Netherlands. Phillips placed their EnergyUp lamps around the cafes for patrons. These lamps are designed to have a mood-lifting, revitalizing effect after around 20 minutes of use.

It’s a win-win play for both brands. But it’s easy for a hard-charging, bottom line executive to be nonplussed by the “PR stunt” since calculating sales for the EnergyUp Cafés is iffy.

EnergyUp Cafe - THE FUTURE OF BETTERMENT, our recent global consumer trend briefing

But still.

It’s an amazingly simply idea that appeals to why consumers buy anything: to be the people they want to be.

To be happy.

To be well.

To be engaged.

To feel alive upon this earth.

You might even tell your sullied colleagues about another TrendWatching example featuring the Chinese dairy brand Yili. The company replaced the ordinary straps on buses for health monitoring systems to measure a passenger’s heart rate, body mass index and balance. I can’t think of a more ingenious way to sell more milk than to give busy commuters a simple way to better themselves, which they’re likely to use and tell everyone they know.

But I hear the naysayers already.

It’s too much of a leap to go from putting a logo on a heart monitor and expecting people to go buy a gallon of milk because of it.

It’s hard—if not impossible—to convince naysayers how to look differently at the world. Because ultimately, how we see the world is how we see ourselves.

The analysts who wrote TrendWatching’s Future of BETTERMENT report see innovation as the thing you do to enrich the meaning of why we’re here.

The best work we can do is to help people become more of who they want to be.

(And sell a few sets of tires in the process ;)

***

Stephen Moegling is a partner at Franklin Street, a health care and digital branding consultancy based in Richmond, Virginia. Franklin Street is also one of the many members of TAAN—one of the world’s largest and most successful networks of carefully selected independent communications agencies. Operating since 1936, TAAN exists to enhance the intelligence, expertise, reach and effectiveness of their members, through cooperative learning and shared capabilities.

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