The new way to think of marketing


Reinvention Is Needed


The Sunset of Consumers


A New Model Based on Empathy


A Few Tools



An important note to start

Most companies already have a CSR program in place that aims to give back to society in some shape of form. In most cases, we found CSR lives in the HR departments of big companies around the world. Probably because it's viewed as a risk to be managed, or at best, a way to give back to people.

However, the new sustainable economy opportunity is not about tokenism or risk management. Companies and brands need to fundamentally shift the core of a brand. Social responsibility is just the start. Being a successful business in this new age requires much more.


Reinvention is needed

Marketing has played a key role over the past hundred years in helping fuel innovation, fair competition, and even more access for people around the developed world. The various Nike, Apple, and BMW have made people dream and feel good.

However, they have also shoved down the throat of the same people a lot of unnecessary products and services. After all, the current marketing model has created an “age of abundance with a surplus of similars” that is based on waste and fast consumption. The hero of the marketing age has been the concept of a brand. An intangible entity, a symbol that consumers covet to fill a pragmatic or emotional need. Brands play a key role in making us feel better, run faster, or focus on our individuality.

But, today, in the new sustainable economy, the role of brands in society is very different than in the past and must evolve to stay relevant. People demand more from what they buy. Brands will struggle to stay top of mind if they continue on a self-serving path that does not take into consideration the full picture of where the world is going.

"Social impact isn't a project. Social impact is a belief. It is a foundational core of what you do, that what we put out into this world is going to benefit society and make an impact on the communities we serve in some way. It's not a program. It is a way of being."
— Joe Doucet
"When you're an entrepreneur, when you're a business, you're marketing, you're teaching people what to like. You know what to look for. And so we're moving into a conscious era. Hopefully we can move a little bit faster because there's not much more time before the next generation is just going to be pissed off that we didn't do more."
— Rebecca Razzall


The old marketing model is becoming irrelevant

Marketing as we know it today has been based on the famous 4Ps: Product, Promotion, Price, and Placement. The foundation is well and good and it will continue to evolve. However, a lot of the basic assumptions within this model no longer apply. That would require an entire book so, for now, let’s focus on the most important thing: the word consumers and all that it entails.

Consumers: People that are viewed as passively consuming a product or service. Targets created to “hit” with communication and to study in order to persuade them to buy a product. And, ever increasing consumer data that invades people’s privacy with very little in exchange.

All concepts part of a very one-sided and myopic view of what the role of marketing in society can be. All words and concepts that assume people are there for the picking. Rather than a brand that exists for people, based on a real alignment of beliefs about the world that surrounds us.

"What is the responsibility of the corporation and the society? And that is to think about the longevity of their business and how to build out their practices and serve a consumer group in a way that is beneficial to all involved so that they can maintain relevance, but also protect the long, long term market."
— Marian Leitner



Active participants

Today, people are actively involved in their decisions. They’re also active participants in the marketing process. In fact, you could argue people own brands not shareholders. People are the most important stakeholder in the new sustainable economy, and treating them as morons who will be persuaded by a TV-spot or digital content is quite frankly offensive.

If you start to think of the people who support your brand as participants in it, then the marketing process, its messaging, and application will be completely different. Actually, the opposite of what we are currently doing is required.


It’s not about persuasion but about persuasion

In the 1960s Vance Packard, in “The Hidden Persuaders”, created a picture that would influence the marketing world for decades to come. Based on persuasion as a way to change people’s minds, it even redefined the dictionary definition of the word.

However, persuasion is a concept that originated in ancient Greece with the great Aristotle, for whom persuasion was based on creating a common ground for all involved (read all stakeholders). The new sustainable economy requires a return to these roots, using communication to talk with communities of interest, not to change their minds.




Let's move from this definition:

  • the action or process of persuading someone or of being persuaded to do or believe something

... to this one:

  • a belief or set of beliefs
"Persuasion is most effective when based on a common ground."
— Aristotle



A new model based on empathy


Sell at all costs

We have all seen some sort of geometrical shape that tries to capture the spirit of a brand and probably spent countless hours in corporate rooms to pick just the right words to sell to consumers. The problem with this model is that it is, in most cases, fake.

What is sold is mostly driven by R&D and market research which then gets turned and spun into marketing talk. But, it’s mostly not real. It’s marketing spin to sell with one goal in mind: increase short-term value of a brand for shareholders.


Create based on what you believe

In a sustainable economy, brands need to start from a true belief system as the foundation and build up from there. It’s a system with, at its core, what we call brand empathy. Empathy towards all involved: shareholders, customers, employees, governance of the company. In other words: all stakeholders.

It’s a force that emanates from the center and does not change based on where the wind blows. These are the brands that today are commanding more powerful loyalty, higher margins, and a closer relationship with people.


What is brand empathy?

Brand empathy is how a company builds its value through sharing and caring for all stakeholders involved.




  • the ability to understand and share the feelings of another


The fallacy of purpose as a trend

In the past few years there has been a lot of talk about purpose, brand purpose, business with purpose, etc. The marketing trend of the moment, it seems. A lot of talk, and, still very much a one-sided and short-sighted view of what a brand needs to represent for people today.

Of course, every business has a purpose. That has never been the issue.

Call it mission, vision, promise, or purpose; it’s all old marketing talk re-purposed (pun intended). In fact, up until now, the majority of businesses have had the purpose to maximize profits and screwed the rest in the process.

Purpose has created even more confusion and smoke in something that requires real change. That is why it is an incredibly misleading word.

The real question should be: What real motivation is at the core of a brand that empathizes with all stakeholders?


An evolution of the meaning of brands

Ancient past: Relationship based on a transaction or exchange to fulfill needs; the USP.

Past: Relationship based on alignment of image and personal fulfillment; brand mission/vision.

Present: Relationship based on alignment of values and beliefs; brand empathy.



A new approach

As a result marketing is not a cost. It’s a long-term investment in the audience.


The data party is over

As we have witnessed over the past few months, the irresponsible access to people’s personal data is now finally being questioned. Social media networks are being asked by legislators to act with respect of people’s privacy. Companies like Apple have taken the steps necessary to guarantee that our audiences are truly an active part of deciding what is given out and to whom.

In other words, the free lunch is done.

Of course, data will continue to be important but only if used to help all stakeholders in the process. Marketeers will have to use data for people not against them. Think about all the good that comes out of all the knowledge and how it can truly help in every day life. Not how it can serve a banner ad.

Once again: Don’t just sell. Interact with people and help them in their lives. They will be with your brand for a very long time.


Measurement in the new model

Measurement in the new sustainable economy is not just about success of a marketing activity. The old adage by Peter Drucker “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, is more relevant than ever.

Measurement is also a guide and a check on delivering the promises made by a brand. It’s a window in how marketing activities are impacting all stakeholders.

That is why thinking of only ROI is too narrow of a view and business results need to be included into a larger Return on Sustainability (ROS).

ROS monitors tangible and intangible aspects of a brand through the positive impact on people, planet and, of course, financial returns to give a holistic view more relevant to the times at hand.

Return On Sustainability (ROS) = positive impact on business prosperity + positive impact on people + positive impact on planet.

The Triple Bottom Line is at the core of measurement. A comprehensive view of how a brand is doing vis-à-vis all stakeholders.


The marketing shift at a glance


  • Brand promise
  • Consumer
  • Target
  • Marketing costs
  • Rhethorical values
  • Shareholder owned
  • Short-term ROI


  • Brand empathy
  • Participant/active investor
  • Audience
  • Investment in audience
  • Active behaviors
  • People-owned
  • Long-term return on sustainability ROS

Chapter Four: Shifting the Business Model

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