Corporate Branding And The Mazlow Hierarchy Of Needs
Corporate Branding And The Mazlow Hierarchy Of Needs
<p>I will argue that, when undertaking corporate branding, it is best done and stands the best chance of success if one understands and adheres to Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs.</p><p>Let me start by telling a story. The etymology of Branding can be traced back to Old English, Proto-Germanic and Old Norse to mention a few. Let’s imagine that, more than a thousand years ago, there were people in Northern Scandinavia living of their cattle, reindeers. The reindeers wandered freely over the Scandes to find food. When one strayed away it was perhaps not easy to determine who the owner was. So, to ensure that it was known who owned the reindeer, they were marked with a hot iron – branded. The reindeers were the source of meat , their horns were made into jewelry, knife shafts and arrow-heads, their skin into clothes and throws. All of which could be sold or exchanged for other goods. If one cattle owner offered high quality goods and became known for continuously doing so, people would rather buy his goods than from another unknown owner. The brand mark of that owner became the bearer of a message – that of a specific quality one could and would expect. That’s one aspect of branding that remains today.</p><p>Branding of products have been around since the dawn of civilization with the Indian brand Chyawanprash, a herbal paste, the earliest known brand name. Venetian makers of glass marked their products with a brand sign and silver makers have used marks for identification for hundreds of years.</p><p>Many products on the market today are branded in the same way. They convey a message of which quality one should expect, or the efficiency of that specific product.</p><p>Imagine there was one and only one manufacturer of mobile phones. The manufacturer could then advertise “Mobile phone” and leave it at that. If there comes one or two competitors on the market, the advertising could be e.g. “Mobile phone with text sending ability”, adding and promoting a so far unique feature. When all mobile phones could send texts, the promotion could move into the design of the product. “Now also available in red, white and blue colors!”. From there, it would be easy to assume that when all phones came in a multitude of colors and were equipped with basically the same features, one would have to move into lifestyle campaigns such as “The serious phone for business people on the road” or “The smart and hip phone for people who love contemporary art.” or any other segment one would approach. The mobile phone’s brand is evolving as its purpose is to be unique and obtain a competitive edge. Still, I believe there is a limit to how much a product or service brand can evolve and still be meaningful and trustworthy. After all, it’s a product.</p><p>Now, for companies, it’s a different story altogether<strong>. </strong>A company brand can stand for much more than a product. A company can accomplish much more and create more meaning to more people. If a company defines its brand and let that brand guide its future the brand can become so much more than an identifier. Now, why should a company bother with its brand? Well, as a start, strong brands continuously outperform their competitors. Strong brands can command a price premium more easily than a weak one, and as we know, in many businesses a 1% price increase means a 6-8% profit increase. Strong brands attract high caliber employees.</p><p>So, what type of corporate brand should a company aspire to define and be? Is it enough to be all about quality? Reliability? Customer service? Probably not. Today, the market is saturated with companies claiming the best quality, safety, service level and so on. A corporate brand has to be more, much more.</p><p>In 1909, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that “A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the shareholders<strong><em>.</em></strong>” <em>(</em>Dodge v. Ford Motor Co. 170 N.W. 668 Mich. Sup Ct. 1919<em>). </em>Unfortunately, this seemingly is the overarching objective for many companies even today. The court’s ruling has been challenged multiple times since, both on legal grounds and on moral ones.</p><p>Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize-winning economist, shared a similar view of corporate purpose in his 1970 New York Times essay, "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase It's Profits<em><span style="color: #000000;">.</span>"</em>' [Milton Friedman, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits, N.Y. Times MAG., Sept. 13, 1970].</p><p>If creating shareholder value would be a modern company’s sole purpose, it would be sad indeed. And, a brand promise not very many employees or customers would feel resonated with them. Of course, a company must make a profit and somehow investors, shareholders, need to feel their investments carry a return, but any company without ambition to be more than a cash machine will very likely not prevail. A company must stand for something more. Something ,that truly resonates with customers and staff.</p><p>Branding is usually defined as a way to create a unique position, obtain a competitive advantage, stimulate demand and act as an identifier. For product and service brands this may be enough. For corporations, such branding is not enough anymore – defining a higher purpose and working relentlessly towards that purpose is. Purpose is something much more and emotional but still with rational evidence.</p><p>In AdWeek, published March 30, 2017, Max Lenderman argues: The notion of purpose will change the commercial dynamics of brands in the same way that digital transformed (and is still transforming) the way people buy and sell stuff. I couldn’t agree more. You see, that simply makes sense. If you ever heard about Maslow's hierarchy of needs you too understand why it makes sense. A corporate brand should help its employees and customers upwards through Mazlow’s Pyramid by ensuring first that the brand doesn’t harm the physiological needs and then ensures safety. The next step is to make people feel to belong to a group that share some commonalities. A strong brand would also respect their stakeholders and make them feel of a certain status, show prestige or that, by using this particular brand, they are masters at what they do. Mazlow name this the Esteem Needs. At the very top of Mazlow’s pyramid there is Self-actualization. What is that? Saul McLeod explains it on Simplypsychology.org as: <em>“</em>The growth of self-actualization (Maslow, 1962) refers to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. For Maslow, a person is always 'becoming' and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them<em>”. </em>Brands that help their stakeholders to realize their own potential, obtain personal growth and gain peak experiences are found here. Apple would be one typical brand I’d place in this category together with Harley Davidson and a few, but not many, others. These are brands that have gone beyond selling features and classic lifestyle branding. Rolex sells high status and luxury, so does Mercedes Benz, I would argue. Coca-Cola sells a young lifestyle and a certain status as “cool”, but I cannot see anything these brands do that helps someone towards self-actualization.</p><p>It is hard to be associated with something so abstract as self-actualization but obviously not impossible. The way to get there is to take a deep look into what you are doing and how that affects people, or potentially could affect people. It is more than the company and its products. It has to be something that makes a difference to modern people. Something they can subscribe to and be willing to join, as a movement even. Something that truly helps them become what they want to become, bringing them one step closer toward fulfillment of their lives.</p><p>A perhaps odd example of successful and sustainable brands are various university brands such as Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, Ecolé Polytechnique, Trinity College and the world’s oldest university, the University of Bologna. As pointed out in a recent Harvard Business Review article: “Ivy League institutions have remained atop their industry for more than 300 years. Compare that with the Fortune 500: Only 12% of the firms on the original 1955 list were still on the list in 2015<em>.”</em>. Why is this? Could it be that renowned universities promise the opportunity for personal growth and realization of personal potential? I would say that is certainly part of it. They speak to the top layer of Mazlow’s pyramid. They don’t particularly speak about the individual classes they offer, not even so much about their tutors or what food their cantinas serve – they speak about their ability to enable you to be more than what you are today. Now, this is where a brand is not just a brand anymore but can be described as a company or organization with a purpose. A higher purpose if any!</p><p>If you can develop a brand that really aspires to help people to fulfill themselves, you will be on top of the brands of today. Define what that is that you can help someone do or reach and make it your purpose more than anything else.</p><p>Now, as if this wasn’t enough to put your teeth in there is a recent addition to Mazlow’s pyramid. It’s called Transcendence needs, i.e. helping others to achieve self-actualization. Not only should you be able to seek fulfillment for yourself, you should also help others reach it. Wow! An awesome task indeed.</p><p>However, if you look at a company like Patagonia, they have made bettering the social and environmental situation for all affected by their operations their ultimate reason for being. Their mission is <em>“</em>Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis<em>.”. </em>Nothing in there about cash flow or EBIT margin targets.</p><p>Bodyshop has its manifesto: “Today, our commitment is stronger than ever; to enrich, not exploit. For us, this means enriching people as well as our planet, its biodiversity and resources. We are committed to working fairly with our farmers and suppliers and helping communities to thrive. Our products enrich, but never make false promises and are never tested on animals. We are proud to be original, irreverent and campaign for what’s right; together we can do it”. It’s not about ME. It’s about US. Together. Helping each other to become better. I would say these two are examples of brands that are aspiring to be part of the new top level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.</p><p>AirBnB is yet another brand that finds themselves helping others to fulfill themselves. They want to provide unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 65,000 cities and 191 countries. They want people to experience more, to travel more and encounter new cultures and they do this by making it easier, and potentially cheaper, to find lodging. The lodging won't be your normal international hotel chain but rather putting the traveler in the midst of the people that live at the destination of their choice, the furniture, the smells, the neighbors and everything that will provide a genuine experience. They state "At the heart of our mission is the idea that people are fundamentally good and every community is a place where you can belong. I sincerely believe that [discrimination] is the greatest challenge we face as a company. It cuts to the core of who we are and the values that we stand for." It's no longer just a travel agent but rather a force or a movement that fights discrimination by encouraging people to travel, see and experience things for themselves.</p><p>Intention, without action, is pigeon-hearted</p><p>However, it’s one thing to say or proclaim that your brand stands for something worthy, has a real purpose. It’s another to show proof of it. Intention, without action, is pigeon-hearted. The world we live in nowadays is transparent. Social media and other ways for words of mouth to spread instantaneously has made it impossible to promise something without being heavily scrutinized. Your stakeholders will hold you accountable. The more important your promise is the more you will have the eyes of people on you. Don’t say you’re all e.g. about CSR if you neglect to follow up even the most remote manufacturer of parts that your subcontractor needs to be able to supply you with something. Many are the times when a sweatshop somewhere has been found and then it showed that they e.g. manufactured cloth for a subcontractor to an international clothes brand after which that brand had to suffer and pay the consequences. In any industry, we always have to gain trust with stakeholders to do business or employ people. Thus, we must show that we “walk the talk”. Prove that we really reduce our carbon footprint, help refugees, save energy, reduce animal testing, increase diagnosis accuracy, hire Nobel Prize winners or whatever tells the story and provides the operational evidence of continuously working towards what we say we are all about. You cannot rest on old laurels but must be passionate about reaching higher and higher all the time. And – the younger your stakeholders are, the more you need to show proof of continuous advances towards your company’s purpose.</p><p>Harvard Business Review published an article last November named The Brands that Make Customers Feel Respected that reinforces this belief that complacency kills even the best of brands:</p><p>Customers trust companies that they feel understand them. They respect companies that they believe respect them in return. Customers also value companies they see as authentic. While some basic level of quality is a prerequisite, consumers place a premium on brands that they believe to be direct, forthright about their values, and consistent in acting on them.</p><p>Consumer demands and expectations are constantly evolving. Empowered by technology and a marketplace that gives them increasing control over their brand relationships, younger consumers are even more demanding than their older peers. They expect to be heard and respected by their favorite brands, and they won’t necessarily stay loyal to the current leaders. Even a standout brand like Apple cannot afford to rest on its past and present successes<em>.</em></p><p>To sum it up: The higher up Mazlow’s pyramid you want your brand to belong the harder it will be to align all operations and offerings accordingly and provide proof thereof. But, if you succeed, the returns will be awesome – you will gain fans and followers rather than just customers and employees and you will have the people you want to employ fighting for a chance to work for your company. They will buy into your brand - and feel part of a movement helping improve something they care deeply about. And – to the delight of the Michigan Supreme Court - money will follow. </p>
KR Expert - Pontus Rehn
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