Mind the Gap Between Aspiration and Behavior

If you don’t know the behavior driving your brand velocity, you can’t optimize marketing, promotions, channel strategy, or much of your 4P playbook. 

As I write in Ramping Your Brand, most of your revenue as a CPG brand, especially as an early-stage one, comes from a minority of your consumers. 

These are your frequently repeating customers, anywhere from weekly to monthly. They aren’t necessarily an utterly unified tribe, but often you can find occupational or lifestyle groups that wildly over-index as fans…for explainable reasons. 

These reasons boil down to values-driven behavioral impulses that make your brand appealing to routine use…or not.

Values that drive CPG brand selection and habituation are mostly subconscious values. Things like gender socialization, class orientation, deep-seated, culturally inculcated anxieties around weight, nutrition, etc. 

They are not what we tweet-fight about online. Social media posturing relies on ideologies, consciously held moral and spiritual ideals that are very hard to enact, hence the need to constantly urge everyone to do them all the time. Think church. Ideologies decay quickly into hypocrisy and corruption. Then we’re left with the actual, unconscious values that no one is discussing. Or, by inversion, they’re talking about the aspirational opposite of what our deep-seated values are.

Whether you like it or not, your brand will live on a continuum from lofty aspiration to the subconscious, normative values. Your symbolism will largely govern where you sit. But your marketing can nudge you around as well. 

Aspiration is a dangerous place to anchor your brand in, especially if the loftiness of them is stratospheric. 

Why? Well, many of us pretend to have aspirations we don’t act consistently on. In some cases, we are so deluding ourselves that we will never even attempt to fulfill a said aspiration. Think gender equality in the workplace. We’re fighting about it precisely because what is a subconsciously driving behavior currently is male dominance, not gender equality in the workplace. 

Look, America is one of the most fantasy-ridden societies on Earth. We consume more media per capita than anywhere else on Earth as well. We spread more conspiracy theories per capita than anywhere else either. 

It is a byproduct of a hyper-individualistic culture ideal for selling innovation that undercuts tradition, established habits, established brands, etc. 

Knowing which values consumers are more likely to act on in your category helps you understand the importance of tapping into product design and marketing. And it allows you to ignore the ideological aspirations that only drive the behavior of very tiny niches consistently. Regenerative agriculture is an excellent example of a noble ideal that consumers will never exceptionally act on during the weekly process of purchasing hundreds of CPG categories. No certification label will make it any easier.

Dr. James Richardson

[email protected]