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How to Earn Brand Advocates

Let’s begin by breaking a marketing myth:

There is no difference between MARKETING and BRANDING. MARKETING IS SELLING. Branding is a form of marketing/selling, but instead of selling products and services, you’re selling perception, image, awareness.

Marketing campaigns, traditional or digital, are designed to get people to buy our products and services or become brand advocates of our offerings and company. To motivate people to act — buy, try, subscribe — or believe in our business, we must first understand their psychology.

What do people NEED? I ask my students at Stanford and Cal.

Food. Water. Air,” most reply.

Love. Companionship,” some say.

Not so much, I respond. You don’t NEED any of the above if you don’t care about living.

They roll their eyes at me, but the fact is, we choose to nourish our bodies every day because we WANT to stay alive. (Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death worldwide, so clearly, some of us don’t care about living.)

There is no such thing as NEED in the human psyche. NEED is merely a construct born of desire, an overwhelming feeling we must have whatever it is we WANT. Since none of us actually NEED anything, marketing must seek to understand the psychology of WANT, i.e., desire to effectively market…anything.

Every marketing effort you create should begin by asking: What does my target market WANT.


WANT is a desire, a FEELING. Feelings are dynamic, changing all the time. To be effective at marketing, we must seek to understand what people really want, and why, to motivate them to buy, try, subscribe, or believe in our business.

We all hide behaviors from others that we don’t like in ourselves. Some of us sneak fattening snacks when no one is watching. Others take drugs/medications to elevate their moods and appear happy. Most of us harbor negative feelings we believe to be facts about other races or religions, that, to appear politically correct, we don’t vocalize.

We must look beyond surface behavior — the facades we all wear — and drill down to what is really motivating someone to take any given action, even if the action is simply to believe. Humans take an action because we desire a certain outcome, even if that outcome is a feeling. Most feel safer believing in a ‘merciful god’ watching out for them, or less afraid of our inevitable demise by believing in an afterlife. Many feel hip and trendy because we follow or dress like an influencer, or smarter by buying a popular book. (Stephen Hawking’s, A Brief History of Time, tops the list of the most unread books purchased, according to Amazon stats. The Hawking Index tabulates estimates of how many readers make it through any given title.)

Converting WANT to Perceived NEED Wins Advocates

Getting my now teen kids to work hard academically is likely my longest-running marketing campaign. I can’t sell them on ‘hard work is its own reward.’ It isn’t for them. So, I first must consider what they desire/WANT. I market to them with typical parental refrains — induce fear about making it on their own with globalization and tech shrinking the job market. “You need good grades to get into a good college to get, or create, a job that makes enough money to live comfortably.” Fear is a great manipulator, used frequently in marketing to motivate action.

Desire is fickle. We often believe we NEED what we merely WANT. Smart marketing understands this fact of human nature and exploits it. Our bodies release ‘happiness’ hormones — dopamine, serotonin…etc., consuming sugar and carbohydrates, making us believe we NEED trashy snacks. Known as “impulse purchases,” racks at the checkout line in the supermarket are stacked with candy and chips. Merchandising (display marketing) plays into our desire for instant gratification and tries to manipulate us to give in to our cravings, motivating us to take the action of buying crap.

Marketing any company into a global brand requires turning WANT/desire, into perceived NEED.

Brand Advocacy is Earned

Turning WANT to perceived NEED is achieved by initially delivering benefits, or the perception of benefits, that your offering/s deliver.

Apple Computer effectively turned WANT into [perceived] NEED by continually delivering visual user interfaces (UI) that were easy to learn and simple to use. Their initial marketing, selling easy-to-operate personal computers (PC) like nothing before them delivered on what their campaigns promised. Their line of PCs worked as advertised, and paid off their marketing efforts by building trust in Apple users, eventually branding them into a respected name in technology devices. Many people now believe they NEED Apple products.

Brand advocates of Apple now have faith the company will continue to deliver great products, whether or not this continues to be true. Apple buyers are now Apple believers. Apple has effectively converted desire — WANT — into NEED.

Perceived NEED is compulsive, reactive, addictive. And once we convert someone from wanting something to thinking they NEED it, we’ve created a believer — a repeat customer. A brand advocate. Like any believers, these converts have faith our offerings will continue to fulfill their desires, whether or not this turns out to be true. Apple’s competitors now produce similar, and/or higher quality products for far less money, but Apple has lost few of their devotees.

Startups fail when they don't to live up to their roll-out advertising — their promise of delivering quality offerings of value before becoming an established brand. Once your business has attracted a global audience, your brand is recognizable across continents, it is easier to maintain market share, regardless of the quality, or even utility of your future offerings. However, no matter how big you are, continually delivering overpriced crap, whether a product or bad service, will eventually destroy your business. (Think now defunct: Sears; Yahoo; Munchery; Babe Clothing; eToys, etc.)

Remember, we are all self-interested beings. We must consistently get what we WANT, or believe we NEED, from your company to support your brand. For the greatest conversion with all of your marketing efforts, first consider what your current, and potential customers desire, or perceived that they need. To build trust in your offering and company brand, be sure to deliver the benefits your roll-out marketing promises about your new offering/s to build loyalty, i.e., faith, and win brand advocates.

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