DirecTV no longer features the character Epic Win and his gaudy, gold-plated menagerie of women, strongmen and dwarf giraffes. Instead, DirecTV ads are now filled with hapless characters whose poor treatment by their cable-TV companies triggers a chain of events that leaves them battered and tattered.
Microsoft’s current ad campaign for Bing spotlights its new collaboration with Facebook with this headline: “Search goes social.”
A couple of years ago, Virgin America teamed up with Method Hand Wash to advertise the reminder that “We’re all in this together.”
Budweiser’s call to action to “Grab Some Buds” is a deliberate play on words promoting not just picking up a six-pack but celebrating, even saluting, friendships.
What’s going here with all of this advertising about relationships between people (rather than relationships between brands and consumers)? The answer is the kinship economy.
Whether by design or by accident, these brand marketers are connecting their brands to the central dynamic unfolding in the consumer marketplace – the growing priority of process, people and purpose over product, brands and over-indulgence. Today’s driving force is the newly ascendant importance of people relationships over brand relationships.
But this marketplace shift is not one instead of the other; it’s the new in addition to the old. The value of product is not going away. Product-related elements remain essential. Consumers still want quality, performance, good value and status. But, increasingly, anything product-related is taken for granted, and often distrusted. It’s no longer a compelling source of differentiation. What matters is process, i.e., how people are treated. It’s ‘the getting’ not ‘the get,’ so to speak. Relationships are front and center, and the gold standard of relationships is kith and kin. So with relationships first and foremost, the epitome of marketing, both today and tomorrow, is kinship.
Think of it as three triangles, each representing an aspect of progression in the modern marketplace. New developments don’t displace prior elements; they build on top of them, creating a higher platform of value, like a pyramid building from the bottom to the peak.
One triangle consists of the progression of product attributes, moving from a base of material attributes to the next stage of experiential attributes, culminating in social as the attribute of the moment today. In tandem with this progression, the triangle of benefits has changed, too, from tangible benefits to intangible benefits to the more refined intangible benefit of interactions. An extensive body of academic research shows that relationships and connections are not conduits for other benefits but are valued for their own sake.
The evolutionary confluence of attributes and benefits has meant a corresponding shift in the locus of value available to brand marketers. Product is the central source of value when tangible, material goods are what consumers want most. Service topped product as a source of value as intangibles and experiences mattered more. (Service skyrocketed into prominence with the publication of In Search of Excellence in 1982, a trajectory followed by experiential marketing after The Experience Economy hit bookstores in 1999.) Nowadays, the locus of value is all about process.
At first glance, process might seem like nothing more than the next notch up in service. Certainly, the emphasis on process requires even better service, but it’s more than mere service. Service is about a relationship between brands and consumers. But in a social world of interactions, consumers are less and less interested in brand relationships. Instead, they are focused more on satisfying relationships with other people. Brands fall into the background in the social world of interactions. The role brands play for consumers is more in the background than front and center. It’s a role about fostering people relationships not building brand relationships, and that’s precisely what Microsoft, DirecTV, Virgin America and Budweiser are up to. They are touting their brands, but they are making their brands more attractive by making them less of the focal point. The product-centric marketplace has given way to a process-central marketplace, and that’s the strategy that brand marketers must follow to get in keeping with kinship.
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