For me, brands, and more particularly the cultures that support them, should be seen as belief systems rather than pure-play marketing systems. Purpose, values and ethics are the oxygen of successful marques because they inspire consumers to see qualities in the brands they choose that make them feel more human, more real and more desirable.
This year, one of my favorite thinkers, Tom Asacker, published a new book, his fifth, titled The Business of Beliefs. It’s an examination of how and why we assimilate beliefs and what we do with them. And of course it’s a discussion that is highly pertinent to all marketers because not only are brands today in the business of belief, but they only work if the people in the business believe in what they are there to achieve.
I caught up with Tom recently and asked him to tell me more. Here’s my “greatest hits” from what he had to say:
1. Wishes drive beliefs
Tom: The word “belief” comes from the Middle English “lief,” which means to wish. Belief is simply a working assumption about something or someone … driven by what we would wish something to be.
2. People forge meaning out of partial information
Tom: Stories are powerful because they express our beliefs. We make meaning out of partial information … We have past experiences, which we spin into a coherent story, and revise when necessary, to rationalize previous actions and make us feel good about ourselves, our associations and decisions. I refer to this as “connecting the dots”.
Some brands are very good at presenting us with “dots” — through their varied and evolving communications and behaviors — such that we create a coherent and motivating whole. Apple is the classic example. People wanted to believe in the exclusive and unique quality of the Apple brand, so much so that they were willing to pay a premium and evangelize the brand. So Steve Jobs orchestrated every single touch point, including something as seemingly insignificant as the product packaging, to communicate and enhance that belief.
3. Brands are actually in the business of generating meaning
Tom: People’s expectations change, because their experiences in the marketplace change and their desires evolve. Great brands lead [that] change. It’s a process of continuous learning, discovery and creation of new meaning, which drives profitable growth and adds value to the lives of customers, employees, owners, partners, and the community. [Brands work for us because] it’s impossible to consciously evaluate all of our daily choices and decisions. However, when the choices we make are not giving us the outcomes we desire, it’s time to pay very close attention to [our] beliefs.