Creating desire: how to build a successful brand.
Great brands don’t sell to who we are. They sell to who we want to be.

We as marketers spend a lot of time learning about our customers– their demographics, their interests, and their behaviors. We leverage increasingly monumental amounts of data to pinpoint exactly who they are.

But great brands don’t sell to who we are. They sell to who we want to be. They create desire for a brand by connecting with what people are striving for.

The core of what we do as marketers is to create desire. The most powerful way to do that is to craft a brand that lives at the tipping point between who people are and who people want to be.

Here’s an example of a brand that I believe nailed this: Peloton.

The core of what we do as marketers is to create desire.

They didn’t lead with the technology. The features. Or even the idea of bringing a real cycling class to your home. Sure they had supporting materials that got into this detail.

They led with the lifestyle that is associated with their product. They created a visual world around their product that represented, clearly, what a lot of people were striving for.

Peloton did more than sell us on some cool new features and technology. They sold us on the lifestyle that inevitably comes from using this new technology. Their marketing created desire by creating a world that customers wanted to be in.

Fitness, workouts, cycling…we engage in these activities to be physically healthy. We also do it for other reasons. A form of escape. Therapy. Better mental health.

We do these activities in part to achieve the life we imagine for ourselves.

We do it so we feel better, and have more energy in other parts of our life. We do it because it helps us do better in our jobs, be a better parent, spouse or a friend. We also may choose a sport that embodies how we want others to see us

We do it in part because we believe it’s a critical ingredient to achieve the life we imagine for ourselves. The life we are striving for.

And is this bad? Is Peloton selling us something we don’t need? You can surely get exercise without it.

I bought all kinds of technology with the belief that it would help me become more physically fit. And in turn be more mentally fit. And in turn become more successful. Polar watches, heart rate monitors, body fat scales, foot pods, Nike+, Bike Computers, Garmin GPS. And of course, the Apple Watch.

Did I need all of this? Maybe not. But each of them played a role in keeping me motivated to be active and fit. Which I think is a really good thing.

We’re not all striving to be rich and famous.

Creating aspiration doesn’t just mean showing fit, attractive people in beautiful NY penthouses. Not everyone strives for this lifestyle.

The backlash from these same Peloton ads that I praised above is proof of that. (See this hilarious twitter thread).

This, from a brand perspective, is a great thing. Some people aspire to this Peloton lifestyle, some don’t. Peloton has a clear point of view.

This point of view is what differentiates the Peloton brand, gets the brand noticed, and defines the emotional connection with their customers. This point of view also happens to appeal to a significant customer base (In the fiscal year ended June 30, Peloton reported sales grew 110% to $915 million from $435 million in fiscal 2018.) While they are not yet profitable, they should be over $1 billion in sales by the end of this year.

The things we buy reflect who we want to be, and the lifestyle we want to live.

The clothes you wear. The car you drive. The beer you drink. The phone you use. It’s even the toilet paper you buy (do you see yourself as the kind of person that only buys recycled? 1-ply? Or are you the kind of person that deserves luxurious, scented 2-ply?)

Let’s say you sell mountain bikes. Mountain bikers love to ride. They love the gear associated with riding. But that’s just the start. They ride to be social. They ride to clear their minds. For some, riding is their religion. Instead of an hour in church on Sundays, for them it’s 4 hours on a mountain. There’s a lifestyle they strive to live, and it’s not always fancy.

In the mid-90’s Klein Bikes totally understood this.

They didn’t lead with the technology or the hardware. They understood the mindset of their customers and embraced the lifestyle they were striving for. It was gritty. Unpretentious. And 100% on target.

I’ve given two examples in the fitness/outdoor space. How about something less aspirational?
Say, something like household cleaning products.

When Method Products launched their first large-scale marketing effort, they had nowhere near the budgets of a Unilever or SC Johnson. What they had was a clear understanding of their audience, and the world that audience imagined for themselves.

They put a stake in the ground- People Against Dirty. It defined an aspirational world their audience was striving for. It led with emotion, supported by the rational differentiation of their product (not filled with dangerous chemicals, for example)

Don’t let humanity get lost in the data.

We know more about our customers than ever. Data can communicate our interests, our behaviors, and our demographics. It can say who we are now. What we do now. What we’re interested in now.

Data is an amazing tool.

But it takes an empathetic human being to analyze that data. It takes a real person talking directly with real customers to understand not just who that customer is or what they want now– but to intuit who they are striving to be and how they want to live.

Advertising is often criticized for selling you a lifestyle you can’t afford. Or a product you don’t need.

But I offer this as a rebuttal to this cynical view of advertising: Work with brands that truly offer something of value. Identify the people that truly can benefit from those brands. Craft that brand to connect with what they are striving for. That, as a practitioner of branding and advertising, is what I am striving for.

Kevin Gammon is the Managing Partner at Teak. His passions, beyond developing brands, include family and friends, playing music, CrossFit, mountain biking, the Chicago Cubs, Denver Broncos and Peet’s Coffee.

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