Their secret? They personify an aspirational brand, whose added value lies not only in the product but also in the statement of a unique world view and a corresponding system of values. Nike goes beyond efficient running shoes, selling individual performance and self-improvement. It is this proposal of a lifestyle that allows them to form unbreakable connections with a specific audience, who are sensitive to their school of thought. Contrary to popular opinion, their strategy is not to address everyone but to speak specifically to certain strategic groups.
On the spur of the moment, the answer to becoming a major brand seems to be to embody a non-specialist position and to produce a message that could potentially appeal to the largest number of people. A power strategy entails selecting a socio-demographic profile (e.g. 25-49 years old, cities of 20,000-100,000 inhabitants), addressing them using a generic message that answers their desires and broadcasting your discourse via a mass medium such as the television. But is talking to the greatest number of people enough to meet growth targets? It is not so simple. This top-down approach (a transmitter - a message - a receiver) is too smooth. It pleases everyone a little, without truly pleasing anyone. The relationship formed with the customer is superficial and it risks being cut short when a competitor with better selling points and/or a better product arrives on the market.
Consumers bond strongly with brands that are aspirational: An aspirational character personifies the brand's values and gives life to this fantasy. The outdoor clothing brand Patagonia develops a fantasy around an explorer on an initiation quest, who is going to reconnect with himself through his exploits in the great outdoors. This dream is far away from the reality of life for the customers. It is an aspirational character in the sense that it is superior, on a par with the World of Ideas. In this way, the explorer that is depicted in Patagonia's public relations does not really exist (or only in very small numbers). He represents an ideal which the brand's buyers aspire to, yet will never achieve.
In order to entrench this aspirational character into reality, brands seek a physical embodiment. They find them in specific communities that meet two criteria: being in harmony with the brand's vision and having an influential role in their field, without the requirement to be publicized. A group of individuals who embody the brand's values, who speak on the brand's behalf and who embody an ideal to which the target market aspires, is what clearly defines the aspirational target group. In other words, these are the trendsetters, the experts or simply the connoisseurs in a given field who share the same frame of mind as the brand. As their objective is to trigger word-of-mouth around the brand, the aspirational target group must be formed from a sufficient number of individuals. It must not therefore be confused with a target group of bloggers, although one or several bloggers could be set up as media representatives.
Once the right aspirational target group has been identified, it is up to the brand to speak to them, to build a relationship and to turn them into ambassadors.
Red Bull, the drinks brand that 'gives you wings', has as an aspirational character the thrill-seeking individual, who dedicates his life to the practice of extreme sports. In reality, it comes to life through amateurs of these sports. They are the aspirational target. Its media representatives are high-level athletes, who are too few in number and too disconnected from the reality of the buyers to be the aspirational target group by themselves. The brand appeals directly to the aspirational target, notably at its 'Soapbox' race during which both professional and amateur athletes are brought together. In this way, Red Bull is offered visibility, both directly, from the aspirational target group and the spectating target market, and indirectly, thanks to the word-of-mouth generated following the event.
Identifying and speaking to your aspirational target market is not dissociated from a power strategy. On the contrary, the strength of a major brand lies in its ability to find a balance between a power strategy and an affinity marketing strategy, 'addressing everyone', yet 'speaking to each individual' and being accessible, yet personalized. Heineken is a brand that has mastered this balancing act: it addresses the mass market with advertising campaigns depicting the famous bottle, which are broadcast using mass media such as the television, but it also reaches its aspirational target market of urban youths seeking strong social experiences, thanks to sponsoring trendy festivals like Pitchfork in Paris. In this way, despite being a very common beverage, Heineken manages to preserve the image of a premium and desirable brand.
The power strategy, meaning addressing everyone, helps to make a strong impact in a short time frame for immediate returns. The affinity marketing strategy, meaning addressing some people, is established in the long term. It is about building a special relationship with your aspirational target market and relying on word-of-mouth to broadcast your values. Brands that last are those that know how to reconnect to reality on a human scale and constantly strive to touch the human heart.