By Tom Peterson
From his Los Angeles podcasting garage Marc Maron recently interviewed President Barack Obama. “When I ran in 2008 there were those posters out there: ‘Hope’ and ‘Change,’” Obama said. “Those are capturing aspirations about where we should be going—a society that’s more just, a society that’s more equal, a society in which the dignity of every individual is respected, a society of tolerance, a society of opportunity.” He continued:
The question then is how do you operationalize those abstract concepts into something really concrete? How do we get somebody a job? How do we improve a school? How do we make sure that everybody gets decent healthcare? As soon as you start talking about specifics then—the world’s complicated—there are choices you have to make.
The aspiration President Obama was talking about at a national level is made up of the aspirations of millions of individuals. While it does quickly get “complicated,” any significant change begins with an aspiration.
Tapping into deep desires and hopes
An aspiration is a strong desire or hope to achieve something important you. You may aspire to be a millionaire, a mayor or a good parent. You may aspire to own a home, earn a degree, learn a language, climb Mount Everest, own a bakery. You may aspire to develop a characteristic: become more generous or a harder worker, be more relaxed. Each of us has aspirations.
As you strive to grow support for your cause, add to the tribe, start by finding the people whose aspirations align with yours. Begin a conversation with them. Messaging from the 2008 Obama campaign successfully resonated with the aspirations of voters who wanted to see a better day. When marketing to aspirations you’re going beyond an immediate desire for cookies; you’re speaking to a deeper level.
First, what we’re not talking about. A few sellers use the term aspiration marketing to talk about marketing to a small segment of consumers who aspire to own or experience something that’s beyond the reach of most people: a luxury car, an expensive watch or stay at an exclusive hotel. They market to those who can afford it and to a segment of people who aspire to someday own that $80,000 car.
A smaller group of marketers hope that your aspiration to help the world will convince you to buy their product (they’ll give a fraction of the price to a nonprofit). These marketers appeal to your interest in fighting disease, ending poverty or saving the planet to sell more products even though their goods may have nothing to do with the actual cause. For example, businesses partner with the Komen foundation in hope that in October you’ll buy something pink—a package of BIC pens or cans of Campbell’s soup—to fight breast cancer. (This sometimes gets absurd: when Komen partners to hawk salt- and fat-laden fried chicken in pink KFC “Buckets for the Cure.”) We’re not talking about that here.
For me, aspiration marketing means appealing to people’s deeper, true aspirations and helping them achieve their hopes and dreams. Aspirin marketing helps meet a need and move toward an aspiration they already have.
CASE: Aspire to learn English, need to connect
Let’s say you aspire to learn another language. What if there were a group that combined that with helping someone else in a way where one person’s needs wonderfully matches with another’s? That’s what CNA’s Speaking Exchange, a 40 year-old language organization in Brazil, focused on when it began its Speaking Exchange program. CNA was trying to find a way to make learning English more real for the students. So it connected them students with seniors living in retirements in the United States—people who just want someone to talk with.
Learn more at the Speaking Exchange website.
Speaking Exchange Video
CASE: A lottery to save the earth
One of the most common fantasies is winning the lottery; it’s a way to imagine reaching that aspiration of getting instantly rich. So what if by helping your cause my fantasy could come true? Maybe I could win thousands of dollars simply for using public transportation. Writing for Worldwatch, Helene Gallis describes a lottery that could help save the planet. But no one buys lottery tickets. Instead, for every kilometer they ride, bus passengers in Bangalore, India, increase their chances of winning a prize.
A pilot project on rewarding bus passengers with lottery tickets has already been implemented in a very successful pilot project in Bangalore, India, and is soon to be implemented in Singapore. With a ridership of more than 4 million per day, the public transport company of Bangalore (BTMC) makes an important contribution to the sustainability in one of the most congested cities in the world. Bangalore therefore embarked on an innovative collaboration with Stanford University and the software company Infosys to implement a bus ticket lottery. The more that the passengers travel, the more winning chances they have. And every kilometer counts: a long commute earns you more chances at winning.
It’s a great incentive for decreasing traffic congestion, energy use and emissions. Traffic engineers get reduced congestion, passengers get the chance to get rich. The world gets reduced carbon emissions.
A brief exercise
Aspiring writers like to learn about how successful writers were able to make it happen. The same is true for musicians, scientists, politicians. We’ll go hear our heroes talk, read their books, watch them on television. We want to know what makes our heroes tick. This is partly because we aspire to have some of the qualities they had. What’s the secret to her success? I wish I had more of that.
We all have heroes, people we admire. What is it that attracts you to them? Take a few minutes and make a list some of your role models, heroes.
- Write down the names of five people you don’t know who you consider to be a hero.
- Then write five people you do know who you admire, heroes you know. Please stop reading and do this now.
- Don’t spend too much time on this, make the list as people come to mind.
You now have a list of 10 people, five you know, five you don’t. Now do this:
- What impresses you about them? By each of their names, quickly write three or four characteristics you admire about them.
- Once you’ve finished this, forget the names. Take just the characteristics and combine the ones that are similar.
If you now get rid of the names and begin to group like answers, you should have a sense of some of your aspirations.
See also: Aspirin Marketing.