Believe This

belif-system-in-artTry forcing a stranger to believe something they have never heard of before, or to abandon a belief they have held for years. Odds are you will fail at both.

“Belief” is understanding without knowledge, facts or proof. Yet humans have many complex belief systems firmly rooted in air. This is not inherently bad. Beliefs guide actions, and if beliefs are noble, then good things occur. But beliefs are also firmly rooted in the mind – trying to uproot beliefs (at least in the short term) is like trying to pull a redwood tree out of the ground with your bare hands.

Belief systems are important to humans and to marketers. For humans, belief systems are shortcuts to understanding life, the universe and everything. The belief doesn’t even have to be correct as long as it provides a person with a grasp on their perception of reality. This is one reason getting people to change their belief system is nearly impossible, because it challenges their reality, knocking them into a state of suspended emotional animation. People don’t like that, and will argue or punch you in the nose to avoid the unpleasantness of altering their beliefs.

Yet we marketing types know that emotions work well to sell products, and that beliefs are highly emotional in nature. It would be wonderful to create a belief system around your product. Some companies have, but typically over generations and only in generalized brand perception (think Coke, IBM and NASA). Creating a belief system is time consuming and horribly expensive, and thus largely left to political parties and religions (which for some are overlapping concepts).

If your pitch violates an audience’s belief system, the backlash it strong (watch this election cycle and see how one or another presidential candidate infuriates half of the voters). So your promotions must align with, or preferably attach to a belief system (or avoid all belief systems in order not to alienate anyone, which would make your promotions rather bland).

It is the selection of belief systems that is important. American politicians routinely use red, white and blue color schemes because those colors are a positive part of most American’s belief system about their nation (not necessarily about their government). Apple attaches to people’s belief systems about themselves as free, lively, sophisticated and intelligent. Ford attaches to self-perceptions of being hard working and Jeep attaches to the belief that off road is where you find life.

Hijacking belief systems then is a great means for establishing emotional buy-in, and thus creating buying preference. Start by finding your audience and mapping their beliefs. Look for those beliefs that are common to a large part of the audience and positive in nature. Next, attach to their belief using common imagery and terminology. Then, carefully, extend your brand to the belief (not the other way around – you can endorse Jesus, but don’t have Jesus endorse you) so that your product appears to be part of the buyer’s larger, overall belief system.

Cosmetic industry icon Charles Revson once said “In the factory we make cosmetics. In the store we sell hope.” The hope he sold was attached the innate desire to be attractive. He tapped a common belief system of mid-century women in order to sell face goop. And it worked.

Who is your audience, what do they believe, and how are you going to hijack their beliefs?


Speak up! What are your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.