There are 4.1 billion of us online (which means we’ve run actual marathons around the six degrees of separation).
We’ve never had more access to each other, and so easily.
Why is it then, that we’ve also never felt more anxious, depressed, and lonely?
A recent study by Cigna declared that loneliness has reached “epidemic levels” in America. Forty-six percent of us say that we always or sometimes feel alone. Forty-seven percent of us say we feel left out. Twenty percent of us rarely or never feel close to people. And 3.9 million people say that TV is their main companion.
And as marketers, we are equal parts culpable for these stats and capable of creating better ones. So many marketers are willing to wager millions of their company’s dollars on the very game they don’t have any real skin in. Let’s start by rethinking how we “target” our “consumers,” and start cultivating connections with our communities.
How many times do we hear, “our target is the busy working mom” or “let’s home in on the Elite Traveler” or “we’re aiming to reach the C-suite”?
“Targeting” as a word, is destructive at its very roots. It implies that we’re hunting these strangers whose lives we’ve determined we can change, and we’re preparing to launch something their way, for our purpose. It looks at the differences among us—which can be interesting and important if we spend time with them. But we usually don’t.
But mostly, these numerical demographics tend to be too broad or too boring to create any emotional impact.
And the word “consumers” reduces people to… well… consuming. It creates a thought framework that suggests to marketers that the only role of this human is to buy from us, buy into us, or believe us.
Here are two ways we get “consumers” wrong:
We usually only know them on paper. We think they are their stats and demographics. And while age, income, ZIP code and credit card data do help us group people, they are the least interesting things about them. Too often, we use it to label them so we know how to talk to them. And we do this without understanding what author Cheryl Strayed calls their “WIM” story. She says that knowing someone’s “Woe Is Me” story is the most important thing we can learn about a person. A PERSON. (Not a consumer.)
We assume we aren’t them. Rest assured, brilliant and fancy marketers, YOU are “the consumer” in someone else’s database. And, you can probably tell by all the ways these brands target “people like you.”
So, what would happen if we swapped those bullet points for braver questions?
The questions we ask can either connect us or categorize us. One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves before we decide what goes into the world is NOT, “Would this appeal to busy moms aged 35-54?” Instead, what if we asked ourselves, “Would I give a damn about this?” In the words of the great Bill Bernbach, co-founder of DDB Advertising, “We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it. We are so busy listening to statistics we forget we can create them.”
As humans, we are mostly looking for—and motivated by—connections:
Connection to others. Connection to self. Connection to something “more.” Said another way, we are hard-wired for a connection that either gets us closer to pleasure or gets us further from pain.
That BRANDS have greater potential for credibility, possibility, momentum, and change than government, health care, and religious institutions, is not a sad fact. That pendulum swing is a radically awesome calling to us as communicators, marketers and media experts. It calls us to something better than a sale, a metric, or click-through. It calls us to connection—to give people pause.
So, in this age where half of us say that we’re lonely, and 40+ million of us are on anxiety medication, and most of our stress at work isn’t from the work itself, it’s from feeling LONELY in the actual work we’re doing…
We as marketers have a new calling: Create content and experiences that answer to more than a metric, impressions, and sales. It’s our calling to connect people.
OK, but how?
Explore sensory opportunities for your brand.
We love the idea of “synesthesia”—which literally means “the union of senses” (opposite of “anesthesia”). The efficacy and power of multisensory experiences—from education to health care to fashion to rehabilitation—are nothing short of astounding. What are the ways your brand can engage people’s senses in more meaningful ways?
Think in terms of tension, not just identity. What opposing things are true (and less obvious) about the people you want to connect with? What’s their yin/yang/Jekyll/Hyde? Do you know what the most stressful MOMENT in their day is? What makes them angry? What’s their Woe is Me story? Then repeat with those who DON’T love your brand—you’ll learn just as much, if not more, about how you can connect with them.
Create some new metrics. See which you care about more. Throw in a wild card metric or question to track your success that brings humanity alongside established business metrics. Some of these might be,
“What else should we know about how you feel about us?”
“Who’s the better version of us, and why?”
“After your most recent experience, what would you tell our mother about us?”
Have FUN with it.
There is no one way of engaging in this new reality—as humans, our emotional parameters are unique and do not fit into neatly defined boxes. Smart, modern brands are similarly personal and do not engage in neatly defined ways. They flow like water, and aren’t sutured by structure.
At VJ, we believe in the power of brilliant brands. And being a connected brand is no longer optional. It requires a strategic vision, but not a perfect plan.
While messy, there is more opportunity than ever with how, when, what and where we communicate. Let us help you ask better, braver questions. Our strategy, creative, and media teams are uniquely designed to work with our clients to navigate these modern expectations of connection—and wildly different ways it can come to life.
Vladimir Jones is Colorado’s original independent, integrated advertising agency, with offices in Denver and Colorado Springs. We believe in brilliant brands and love making the world love them as much as we do.