Satisfy the longing for belonging through a strategy of Big Tent Branding.
J Walker Smith writes: If you believe the headlines, the mood out there is one of anger and fear. So, if you want to connect with consumers, the story goes, market to anger and fear. But the evidence of anger actually points to something else. This was the theme of my talk at FragmentNation in New York last week.
What shapes people’s engagement with their lives is a passionately felt longing for belonging. People feel cut off, disconnected, left out, cheated. People have lost connection with an overarching narrative of shared meaning.
What they are looking for is a community shared with others that connects to an overarching narrative of meaning, one that embeds identity within belonging. And this means that the real business opportunity is not to follow the rise of coarseness, but to bring people together under a big tent of connection. Satisfy the longing for belonging through a strategy of Big Tent Branding.
So, how should businesses respond? We think there are three rules:
- Build a franchise that is expansive, not exclusive. Get everybody together under the same Big Tent. This is not one-size-fits-all. Rather, this is the 21st century challenge of fashioning unity from division. Unilever did this brilliantly with Dove — diversity in all its glory, unified by the Big Tent of “Real Beauty.” Similarly, when Google says, “Be together, not the same,” or when Airbnb says, “Belong Anywhere.” These are all examples of Big Tent Branding.
- The big story matters as much as the focused story. Big Data and digital tools of one-to-one customization work better under the Big Tent. Too much focus, to the exclusion of breadth, blinds us to growth opportunities that, going forward, will be more critical.
- Prioritize breadth over depth. Byron Sharp’s work across dozens of categories finds conclusively that brands cannot grow without broadening their base, even including light users and non-target consumers. Category dominance, even brand survival, takes more than niche marketing. Big brands have to have a Big Tent.
The challenge for traditional businesses is that they are in a race with digital businesses that increasingly own the virtual marketplaces that bring buyers and sellers together. And marketplaces happen to be a good place for Big Tents. But that race isn’t over yet. Consumers want more than a new way to shop. They want a way to find meaning in their lives. Product and service brands can offer that kind of lifestyle platform as easily as digital firms. Big brands are, at their heart, about forms of identity and belonging. This is the next big business battle.