Buyers Want More Than Benefits, They Want a Belief System

Buyers are no longer purchasing products based on benefits, they are buying the belief that a product or service is necessary. A brand focusing on beliefs will always find new ways to influence buyer behaviors and shape world-views.

I’m working on core values and beliefs with a client and it struck me how few businesses understand the need to take this step. Buyers are no longer satisfied with a product, a benefit or a cause, and that presents a challenge for most businesses. While that might suggest something more significant is stirring in the psyche of the buyer, we can discuss it on another day.

Why is a belief system important in marketing? A Buyer wants to believe that something is vital, necessary and fits a narrative in their life. They want it to define them as much as they define it. Let me share a story about the power of belief systems in marketing … Years ago while consulting with an FM radio station in Washington, DC, that had fallen on hard times, I suggested to the management team that they drop the point “.” and the “W” from their on-air identity and diminish its presence in print. When they asked, “Why?” I responded with “What role do we play in our listener’s lives? We engage our listeners. We are invited into their homes and cars. We invite them to join us at branded events. They view our on-air personalities as friends. We have created something that is vital in the eyes and ears of our listeners – a belief system – that makes us more than a radio station, it makes a friend.” A few weeks later the point and “W” disappeared and WHFS 99.1 became 99-1 HFS, the Alternative Rock Icon that would be emulated around the country. It spawned packaged multi-city multi-artist tours that were branded for local stations that reinforced listeners’ belief systems. It created new approaches to local music events that were listener-centric. It became the standard for listener engagement. Stations around the country dropped the “.” and the “W” or “K”.

When I look back on that moment, I think just how far ahead of the curve we were and how much was riding on that change in direction. We had figured out how to market with a belief system long before it entered the mainstream. By reconsidering station’s core beliefs, shifting the format, and taking a risk we saw our reported and recorded listenership numbers rise dramatically. Advertisers were more than happy to buy time, and listeners were thrilled to be part of the new alternative music culture. All we had to do was rethink how we connected with people – our beliefs.

How can you start incorporating beliefs into your brand? Its an old story with a new twist, focus on the buyer experience and look at where you can make your offering less of an offering. In Baltimore, R House has taken the food court in a new direction. R House is a launch pad for new chefs, a social space, pet-friendly, and includes a bar. For many of its patrons, it is an indispensable part of their lives. It’s a co-working space, a place to meet friends and socialize, drink and eat great food. On the product side, look at Casper, Needle and Tuft, and Allbirds.

Beliefs are closely tied to behaviors (think Anthropology), and unlike a cause, a belief can teach your brand more about a buyer than you might think.

Is your brand at a crossroads? At its core does it focus on Benefits, Causes, or Beliefs? Need help? Get in touch.

Tobias Bray is OBO’s Director of Brand Strategy and Communications. He spends time with brands working through their fundamentals to ensure marketing programs deliver better results. His background includes product management, business operations, sales, and marketing. He is also known as “Office Dad”.