Targeting for inspiration and aspiration

Who inspires you as you build your brand? That is, when you think about your brand meeting the wants and needs of a person or fitting into the lifestyle they lead, who is that person?

In our work of understanding what it means to be a modern brand, we’ve discovered that modern brands design for relationships, not just purchases. They are built on more than just competing to satisfy a category need cheaper/faster/better; they go-to-market with a plan to build relationships with consumers that can be converted to greater lifetime value down the road.  In other words, modern brands are realizing the greater value converting “like” to “love” by building experiences of/by/for the consumers that will become loyal customers and recommenders.

To simplify things, let’s call the die-hard fans who relate to your brand your Aspirational Target, and the remainder of your customers the Tactical Target. Think of them this way:

Aspirational TargetTactical Target

The people you picture when you’re designing your brand and experience

Identify with what your brand represents and the values you promote and represent your brand’s in-group to other consumers

The idealized, aspirational people you show interacting with the brand in marketing communications, on your website, or on your packaging

The people you reach with marketing tactics to drive transactions

Choose your brand based on functional attributes and price and would readily switch to a generic product if available

The broader market of everyone who consumes products and services in your category

So, if you had to sort your current customers into Aspirational Target or Tactical Target groups, which side wins in a tug-of-war? Surprisingly, many brands have vanishingly small aspirational targets and yet draw in massive tactical targets through the reach, influence, and aspirational power of the people/person they are for. Three easily relatable examples of Aspirational Targets include:

  • A celebrity or endorser who is aspirational for your brand and your target audience, such as Jessica Alba & Honest Co. With a clear image of the ideal user, products that could otherwise get lost in a sea of earth-friendly, good-for-you claims can break through with tactical targets that want to live a piece of the Honest lifestyle as effortlessly as the face of the brand.
  • An aspirational but relatable archetype, such as the Mac guy, the High Life man, or the “Choosy Moms” that choose Jif. They wear brands as a badge celebrating their everyday, settled-in normalcy and belonging, and extend that feeling to the tactical targets that buy.
  • Or, an Aspirational Target can be a way to signal the values or spirit of the brand, such as Subaru embracing LGBTQ inclusivity. Through user imagery, endorsements, and in-group language, the brand stands apart from other car brands to win market share and drive growth with tactical targets that share their values.

Should B2B brands think about how they appeal to Aspirational v. Tactical audiences? After all, the influence of technical buyers, procurement officers, and analysts should arguably make buying decisions more rational and dispassionate, right? Not in our findings. Among B2B brands we see the same dynamic as in B2C, but with different words to describe the Aspirational Target.

  • Cray, Inc., an AI and supercomputing company, builds its brand by defining its aspirational target as a community of AI Pioneers technologists and scientists driven to lead the next tech revolution.
  • Salesforce lionizes their aspirational target of users as “Trailblazers” – the thought leaders they describe as “Drivers. Innovators. Leaders. Lifelong Learners.” Despite a majority of the people that engage with the brand being users of it rather than the buyers, Salesforce elevates them as the people that drive growth.
  • IBM has evolved in its status as the brand “no one ever got fired for buying…” from being about assured performance to representing a group that identifies with and advances the concept of Smarter – in thinking about innovating and doing business.

When developing your Aspirational Target, you’re looking for the most aspirational or relatable version of your core supporters. Who do they want to be? What best version of themselves is your brand, and its products and services, helping them become? The job of your brand is then to project and support the aspirational lifestyle and values of your consumers.

 So, why bother? Why not just use tactical targeting tools to be in the right place at the right time for any person, and customize and personalize with AI? Buying is a moment, and in marketing you should absolutely target and test broad reach to multiple segments. However, your brand must be consistent across touchpoints to build equity. Too many variables in your brand, and you lose the ability to own a perception in the hearts and minds of your audience, and you lose authenticity if you change too much across channels or experiences, seeding confusion and distrust.  Defining your Aspirational Target is a way to stay true to higher order values, thus retaining customers over the long-term, and driving long-term business growth. This goes back to the idea that great brands help to drive down operational efficiency over time, versus great marketing that seeks to gain a quick return on an initial outlay of investment. Delivering on the aspirational values you share with your Aspirational Target help you create a stickiness that lowers the cost to acquire and keep customers as well as employees (and investors).

So, who inspires you? And who can you help become the best version of themselves? Send us an email if you'd like to talk about Brand Purpose or need some help identifying your Aspirational Target. We'd love to chat!



Samantha Temple Neukom | Partner, Chief Brand Officer


Dan Cabacungan | Strategy Director

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