The Strategy Behind Brands Getting Real and Less Perfect

Content marketing has long been aspirational storytelling. But as the world has largely grown aware of people’s differences, and entire movements have revealed inherent, pervasive biases that inundate all industries, we’ve grown tired — of sameness.

Brands are moving away from selling a perfect standard, instead pioneering a new content strategy of acceptance that praises diversity, differences, flaws, all the things that make us human. And build community around the brand.

Just like people are looking to align themselves with brands that share their values, they’re looking to fit in, too — as they are, today. They seek companies that adapt to fit them, forsaking the antiquated necessity of adopting a product to change themselves.

A 2018 Adobe Consumer Content Survey found that 42 percent of people surveyed said that content not relevant to them or their situation is the second-most reason to not purchase from the brand. Consumers now know they can find people like them, and no longer have to settle or adhere to an imagined status quo.

Similarly, according to a Nielsen March 2018 report, “Part of the reason that brands need to focus on granular authenticity is that the average American consumer is more diverse than in generations past. Today, there is no average American consumer…The products you create for these consumers need to authentically reflect that individuality.”

ThirdLove, a company selling “bras designed for the modern woman,” launched in 2013, challenging traditional sizing with the introduction of half sizing. Couple that with their Fit Finder, which more than 10 million women have used, with a breast shape picker tool and fit survey, and they’ve built a brand that defies their industry’s singular representation of body type.

The company’s first out-of-house campaign — To Each, Her Own — made with Partners & Spade, conveys this very differentiator, launching September 10, 2018. Directed and shot by women, street casting found women of all ages, body types and ethnicities. It took four months from conception to launch, and debuted with subway takeovers in NYC and Brooklyn, with traditional and digital billboards across Manhattan following for the next 60 days. A one-minute commercial and social campaign reach a wider national audience.

The idea: to represent their actual customer base, which now spans 1.5 million customers, from teenagers to 80-year-olds. “It’s a statement of individuality and the beauty that comes from that,” said ThirdLove Co-Founder and Co-CEO Heidi Zak. “It’s us bringing our customers to the forefront of the evolution of the ThirdLove brand, and listening to the diversity of our customer base.”

That everybody is not representative of every body provides a meaningful role for the brand within the story — a strategy that allows room for consumers to see themselves represented in the brand, just as they are, and not who they could be. Zak says she wants the audience to take away exactly this idea, “For any woman to see someone she can relate to,” she said.

As consumers are granted permission to be themselves, they’re likewise given concession to be a part of the brand.

But it’s not just the clothing industry changing their approach. The food industry — which often sells products via beautifully, perfectly presented ingredients — is owning the natural defects that come with growing, well, real food. Companies like Imperfect Produce have built an entire brand on “ugly,” on the dismissal of a singular standard.

By taking grocery store rejects, Imperfect Produce has created a CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscription box to save food from becoming waste — 30 million pounds since their 2015 founding, across 7 states and 9 cities. The company’s content strategy flaunts the very defects that prevent their produce from making it into traditional stores, noting that in a “food system obsessed with volume, uniformity and perfection,” they believe “the only thing ‘ugly’ about produce like this is wasting it.”

It’s a brand manifesto that defies that which its competition depends on. Content across their site and social elevate this thinking of a community set to change a paradigm

While these newer brands are staking their claim on setting new standards, big brands before have also challenged the norm, hinting at a wider shift to come. Dove disrupted gender standards with their Real Strength for Men spot; Airbnb’s 2017 We Accept campaign announced their alignment with people of all nationalities, religions, and backgrounds and asked their customers to do the same; and the 2017 Coca-Cola (legacy trailblazer in diverse advertising) “It’s Beautiful” Super Bowl spot confronted and defied the notion of a white, English-speaking America.

But if companies are selling the normalization of differences and defining a standard of no one standard, is there an associated risk? Can brands by association become less of a necessity by serving an existing need versus creating a new need to serve?

The stakes are raised by first setting a brand foundation, the purpose and need to be met, and then creating content to amplify the message and how. Historically, companies have created entire product categories and campaigns around why they should be an essential part of your life. Perhaps most-famously, the De Beers 1947 “A Diamond is Forever” ad that catapulted the diamond industry as a prerequisite to engagement.

What’s to be learned is this type of aspirational marketing tactic may not resonate in future generations as people become more aware of alternatives and like-minded people who don’t buy into a fabricated norm. Meaning, companies today have more work to do, showing how they fit into consumers’ lives as they currently exist, and not the other way around.

By meeting real, existing needs through relatable expression, brands are conjointly adopting the authenticity today’s consumers demand. And that’s where success is found. After all, if nobody’s perfect, then why should brands ask us to be?

Allyson Marrs

Allyson Marrs

Communications Manager & Project Director at Fine
Allyson Marrs manages communications and tells stories at FINE, a branding agency in Portland, Oregon.
Allyson Marrs

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