Here’s what we mean by that: even casual car lovers know an Aston Martin when they see one. Can most of us afford an Aston Martin? No. If we could, would we choose it over a sensible SUV in which to drive the family around and pick up groceries? Probably not. But we recognize an Aston Martin when we see it, we know what it means. When we see someone driving an Aston Martin, we think “There goes somebody with taste, money, and perhaps more personal freedom than I have in my life.”
That’s a big part of why an Aston Martin buyer drives an Aston Martin: because people who will never own an Aston Martin recognize it when they see it, because they know what it represents, and because their opinion of the driver will be affected by the driver’s choice of car. Even if you think that anyone driving an Aston Martin is a pretentious sucker, that’s part of the brand, too. “Haters gonna hate,” right?
Can you survive selling only to your power-users, the kind of person who would spend hundreds, thousands even, on a wristwatch or a handbag? Yes. But marketing only to your power-users? Maybe not.
How the individual customer sees your brand is, in many ways, less important than how their community sees your brand. When we buy luxury brands, it is not always because they’re better in any objective sense, but because of the status that comes with them, and if a luxury brand is known only by those who can afford it, then those who can afford it might not be interested. When you drive an Aston Martin up to the bar, you expect people there to know what it is, and why they should be impressed, you don’t have time to explain it to them why an Aston Martin is a great car, that’s the advertiser’s job.
Does this apply only to luxury brands? Not necessarily. A Messermeister is a great chef’s knife, and many foodies, even those who don’t do much cooking on their own, know this, and when they see the chef at the Japanese steakhouse using one, they’re much more impressed than when the chef is using some aluminum slicer and dicer he bought from Wal Mart. That foodie might never buy a Messermeister, but when they see a chef using it, in a restaurant or on a cooking show, they’re impressed, and that is a big part of why the buyer buys the brand, and why they trust the brand.
Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company selling high-end coffee or looking for marketing ideas for small business so that you can sell quirky hand-knit hats shaped like owls, we’re social animals, and our emotional attachments don’t exist in a vacuum. We want to know what our friends think of our record collection, we go out to eat sushi not only because it’s delicious, but to impress our date.
Yes, you can sell to nobody but the power-user, the pro, the rich luxury-brand buyer, the trend setter who likes custom-made, quirky clothes, but only when they know that everyone else knows your brand.
Writer Bio: Gilbert S is a writer and artist who lives in rural New Mexico with his wife and with his dog Sir Kay.