Great products meet people’s needs, offering solutions to problems or a better-made version of something that already exists. In a landscape of savvy consumers (no longer sold on fake aspirational ideas of perfection), the need for product purpose is more important than ever.

However, as much as we simply want our needs met, we are cultural beings, with emotions, interests, values, and style. We want more than just stats, ingredients, and fast-track functionality. Creating brand engagement today takes a truly creative mix of meeting needs, sharing values, and expressing this in style.

Brand platforms that go beyond product

People no longer want to passively consume branded content. Instead, they want to set the context for brands to respond to. Our digitally connected world has created an exciting and empowering infrastructure – it gives consumers the power, but it also enables brands to think more creatively about their products and communications. Brands can harness an engaged and loyal following by creating and ensuring ongoing visual and verbal content that inspires, informs, and feeds people’s interests.

Building a brand positioning with an emotional hook that goes beyond the product is essential to connecting in this way. When done well, this allows brands to stand for something bigger, and to create communications that are relevant to the product but not completely defined by it.

Curate a community based on interests

Sometimes, demonstrating a passion for your product is best achieved outside the confines of your brand. Unbranded content, like Away’s Here magazine and Casper’s Woolly magazine, can be a great way to build consumer relationships, while separate social feeds can enable a brand to share its authentic values without the marketing veneer. Accidentally Vegan, an Instagram account that shares news of the latest vegan products in the UK marketplace, is run by the founders of The Vegan Kind, the UK’s biggest online vegan supermarket, but deliberately avoids promoting its own offer above its competitors. The feed’s delight in welcoming any new entrant to the vegan space, be it from Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Kit Kat, puts their passion for plant-based front and center, and in doing so reinforces The Vegan Kind’s reputation as the trusted voice for vegans.

Reflect a lifestyle

Creating, then embodying, a lifestyle that aligns with your consumers’ style and desires is a great way to connect. Many brands are successful at signaling something for consumers to aspire to, however reflecting a lifestyle needs to go deeper than just presenting aspirational aesthetics.

Outdoor Voices is a great example of a brand doing just this. The athleisure brand goes beyond the performance-driven, toned, and sexy aesthetics of its competitors to create a deeper connection with consumers that reflects their values. Built around the idea of unselfconscious ‘happiness’, Outdoor Voices empowers and inspires this attitude in a multitude of ways. The brand shifts the athleisure narrative from performance sport to everyday low-impact movement, recreation, and just #doingthings. Featuring un-retouched models with real bodies and real cellulite, the result is a brand that manages to create a desirable lifestyle through ideals of feeling confident and unaffected.

Craft a subculture

With a sense of cultural identity being desired in its own right, the best brands are ones that are able to create subcultures of their own. Rather than capitalizing on existing cultural narratives for profit, consumers are looking to brands that recognize and resonate with their reality and act as a facilitator of their culture.

Recognizing the links between personal care and mental wellness, Selfmade is a skincare brand that aspires to democratize mental health resources by connecting them with personal care products. Committed to creating a brand that meets the emotional needs of real people, the brand brings together a community of mental health experts, beauty developers, and an advisory board of Generation Z women to develop its products. The result? A brand that creates its own cultural narrative around building individual self-worth and facilitates a platform to maximize human potential.

By reflecting a vision and values that go beyond the product, brands can create ongoing engagement and real advocacy. They can facilitate a unique and special community and ultimately, they can play their own role in crafting and facilitating culture.

Cover image source: Laura Chouette