What people want was the nub of the most exciting conversations at Sustainable Brands London earlier this week.
Let’s re-imagine our lives to the extent that what we want and how brands meet these needs are radically different — was the message of a short film on the future of the family by Dragon Rouge. It raised some hackles, and was bound to: Anything that questions fundamental assumptions about how society works — to the extent that McDonald’s (the epitome of multinational monotony) buys fresh produce grown by communities and transports them to local businesses to sell — will prompt scepticism. That’s the point: If you re-imagine the world, meanings shift.
“Is there a future where ‘branding’ is less prominent?” tweeted innovation expert Hugh Knowles of Forum for the Future. I replied that a brand is a semiotic tool — a common reference point, a carrier of meaning; why not harness it?
The question is, what do we harness the power of brands for? How brands meet people’s needs can change, said Dragon Rouge’s Dorothy MacKenzie, urging the brand marketers in the room to shape the future aspirations of their companies. Julian Borra called for a more fundamental shift: not just reimagining the role of brands in meeting needs, but transforming the very aspirations of consumers. This is the aim of the China-born and now international initiative, Dream in a Box.
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I’m a big fan of Dream in a Box. But where I think the real opportunity lies for brands is not so much in changing our aspirations and desires, as it is in better understanding what we want.
I’m interested in the distance between where people find themselves at any given moment, and where they would like to be — and the resulting impulse to go and find something that lessens the gap. My book, The Brand Strategist’s Guide to Desire, explores this momentum, this renewable force that is desire, and asks how brands can better understand it and respond to it. I delve into five things people most commonly go looking for to make their lives more enjoyable and meaningful — community, adventure, aesthetics, vitality and purpose. How can brands understand what these desires mean to individuals, in all their cultural complexity, and develop really satisfying, and moreish, responses?
If they do, they will have bypassed the ephemera of many products on our shelves. By doing something meaningful, they will be closer to sustainability. Whether they choose to use that word or not will be by the by …