In this conversation with Karima Essabbak, the communication expert Thomas Kolster describes his vision of the new challenges (that) marketing is facing. Also known as “M. Goodvertising”, he created this theory to support the transition towards a more responsible communication strategy. However, he is now nuancing his idea, warning about the possibility of falling into a “hero trap”.
Thomas Kolster began his career in advertising agencies, where he quickly realised the crucial role of communication in the rise of the consumerist mindset. He therefore started to look into more responsible communication strategies and wondered how they could be used to push for change. This is where his idea of “Goodvertising” came from. For Thomas Kolster (at the time), the solution for a company which aimed to appeal to consumers interested in sustainable development was to look for its “purpose”. Being a purpose-driven brand, focused on economic responsibility, was supposedly a way to meet the new world’s expectations.
However, Thomas Komster realised that many companies which had adopted this strategy are currently facing backlash. Customers don’t see any authenticity in this quest for purpose, but rather self-absorption. He takes the example of the brand Patagonia whose slogan is “Save our home planet” : seems a bit pretentious, doesn’t it ? This is what Thomas Komster calls “falling into the hero trap”. It is irrefutable that a brand’s values have an impact on customers and the way they choose to spend their money. But since every current brand claims to have high ethical and environmental standards, customers are becoming suspicious. In order to gain back trust, companies need to stop focusing on their “purpose” and start listening to their customers’ needs and desires.
The questions that companies must ask themselves is “who?”: who should tell the story, who should we engage with? The relationship between brands and customers stands at a critical point. In times of crisis, the brands that will remain leaders on the market are the ones which bring joy and have a meaningful impact on people. No one wants to hear the story behind the product anymore; what matters is how the company can fit into the customer’s story. No one wants to hear about all the good things that a company does in society; people care about how it translates into their lives. It is about leadership, not only about branding.
We need to make consumers the heroes of their own narrative. The Obama campaign “Yes we can” is a good illustration: it is not enough to believe in someone’s ability to create change, we need everyone to feel included in the movement.
Defining a purpose is still useful because it helps to give direction and transform the company to embrace a bigger role. But we need to realise that companies are not the heroes: we all have to write the story together.