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Sustainable branding: the 4D brand model

The Great Recession saw the fall of big empires, especially but not limited to the banking industry, such as Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs or Enron. They are companies that cheated their customers through brands that faked in the context of crony capitalism. That resulted not only in an economic crisis, but a crisis of trust. As a consequence, consumers started to behave more consciously in how to spend their money in their buying decisions. They became more aware of the relevance of their choices.

For long, they just followed their hearts for aspirational brands that were offering them functional and emotional experiences. We used to hear sentences like ‘Starbucks don’t sell coffee, but the third place experience’. This value proposition attracted a lot of consumers willing to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere with classical music and free wifi while sipping a pricey cup of coffee. But in the UK customers complained when they realized about the company’s tax evasion policy. Steve Jobs used to say ‘Apple’s dream is to change the world through technology’. His vision radically transformed the personal computer and music industries. But Apple did not monitor the exploitative treat of Foxconn, one of its main suppliers, to Chinese workers. Volkswagen “get happy” commercial lost all its intention to emotionally connect with consumers after the emissions-cheating scandal. The instinctual and short-term drive of the consumer’s behavior pushed brands to communicate their promise through an emotional message. Branders and marketers main (pre)occupation was how to win the consumer’s mind through neuromarketing techniques. They thought it was cool. Emotional branding is part of the equation to build a successful brand, but today is not enough.

Why? Two new drivers are emerging. The digital revolution, with the spread of social media as its flaghship, along with the rise of a conscious consumer, is bringing a new paradigm. Consumers want not just functional and emotionally appealing brands that speak to their minds and hearts, but also authentic and meaningful brands that can win their souls and spirits. Tired of void brands from corrupted corporations, disappointed of brands being part of the problem, upset with democracies that are not accountable to them, people started to react as consumers. And one way to raise a voice is by choosing which brand you trust when you shop. So the demand for authentic and meaningful brands is on vogue. The world may be flat, but brands can’t be if they want to regain consumers’ trust.

The brand’s future is written in 4-Dimensions. Consumers want to rely on brands that offer them authenticity and meaning, besides functionality and emotion. Philip Kotler’s marketing 3.0 moves into that direction. Disney anchors its authenticity in the connection with its foundational values. It delivers on the promise of ‘using our imagination to bring happiness to others’. It inspires so. It enlightens souls. And since Disney is aware of the responsibility to stand for children’s education, it contributes to change social behaviors related to empowerment, gender equality and role-models. It has become a meaningful brand not only for children but also for adults. A meaningful brand allows the consumer to identify with the company’s higher purpose. This is the highest level of trust: when a brand speaks to the consumer’s spirit. Patagonia is not just a quality (function) brand for adventurers (emotion). It stands for its values of freedom and respect to nature (authentic), and it represents a new way for a clothing brand to minimize the human impact on the environment (meaning).

In the light of the 4D paradigm, a new question for marketers arises: what do companies need for creating meaningful brands? Here’s the pathway:

  1. Discover your own spirit. Be true to yourself and ask how you would like to make a difference.

  2. Create a unique corporate philosophy with a higher purpose that is good to society and/or the environment (meaning)

  3. Connect human leadership, driven by universal values that are shared by your stakeholders, to your brand (authenticity)

  4. Engage by designing with the prosumer. Listen and observe what are your target’s highest self-realization needs and involve them in creating and delivering value.

  5. Be patient. Put values first, profits come later.

If you are a marketing lover, and a change-maker, you don’t have to hide your spirituality any longer. Brands need you more than ever, for the sake of a sustainable world.

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