We Don’t Want to Fit In. We Want to Belong


There has been a big shift in how people interact with brands. In the old days, a product or service would show up on the scene, and we’d evaluate whether the product was something we could use. Sure, there were some products and brands where we felt like we wanted to belong (you are either a Coke or Pepsi person, for instance). But most times, when something new came out, the question was whether you could fit yourself into the right category to make that product useful.

This has all reversed. People are tired of fitting in. They want to go where they belong.

The Business of Belonging

A lot of purchases in our day don’t matter much. At least in a B2C setting. We’ll buy from whoever is convenient, or cheap, or without a lot of thought.

UNTIL

Until we discover something that changes our perspective. Maybe we decide that we want to support more local businesses. Perhaps we decide that any company that wants to clean the world’s oceans are worth your business. Or maybe you are part of a group that demands to be recognized and wants the world to see your value, as well. Maybe you served in the Armed Forces or you grew up in a large extended family home.

We used to buy from necessity. Or price. Or locale. But that’s not a given. And as people become more and more distracted by their phones, by non-traditional media sources, and by the sheer volume of information flashing in front of our eyes, how will companies explain to the people they most want to serve that those people belong with them?

We Buy From People We Feel Share Our Values

Seven out of ten Millennials consider a company’s values before making a purchase. By comparison, 52% of US adults (blended generations) do. But that still means that one out of every two people wants to know that your company’s values align with theirs. (source)

This means that for us to help customers figure out where they belong, companies will have to create information that expresses their values either directly or otherwise.

Most of what marketers and people in general “believe” is true about buyers comes from years ago. Who plays video games? Men or women? The answer: women. By a much larger number. We believe that markets don’t exist for something “weird” and then superhero movies like Black Panther make over a billion dollars. Or that a free-to-play video game would earn a company $2.4 billion in a single year. (Fortnite.)

Companies Must Reach Out and Connect With Smaller Buyer Makrets

By selling to everyone, you’re talking to no one. (tweetable)

It’s the equivalent of going up to someone at the bar and saying, “You have the most beautiful eyes” and then saying it to each person there over and over again and hoping for a good result.

We all want people to love what we sell, but it is only when people feel seen and understood that they feel ready to buy.

Same-sex marriage supporters want to know where your company stands, says this infographic. NASCAR fans can now race into esports, even if they may never be a “real world” driver. And companies are finding ways to connect with the interests of groups of potential customers.

This Requires Bravery

Your company could guess wrong. You might stumble when trying to reach out to people you want to support. There might be backlash from people who don’t support those that you choose to help. And there are plenty of ways to mess this up.

  • If the message doesn’t match the brand, your efforts won’t make sense.
  • If you tiptoe into this with a single campaign or baby step, people might say you’re wishy washy or non-committed.
  • If you use cliches and stereotypes because you don’t actually have any first hand knowledge of a group, it will show and it won’t go well.
  • Just because you reach out to smaller groups that matter to you doesn’t mean they’ll see you if you don’t create interesting, small, portable content for them to consume.
  • Marketing this way doesn’t replace your “big” and “general” marketing, but it requires you to pay a lot more attention to feedback, and it’ll be upon you to create more than a few small groups for each product or brand. You can (and should) definitely reach out to more than one type of people at a time, if you stay focused within those groups.

But This is Where We’re Going

We’ve gone far past Henry Ford’s “any color as as long as it’s black.” We have pushed past simple customization. The world is built for mass personalization. Humans organize tribally by nature. The marketplace has never really supported this in any significant way, or for too long. Marketing to the masses was always too attractive a prospect. But it’s fading. Your numbers show that. And this? This crazy idea of reaching to specific groups? That’s what’s next. It will be bumpy. It won’t be easy. But it’s where a lot of this is headed.

And as you know, I’m here to help. (Feel free to drop me an email: [email protected] )

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