Today’s episode is with David Baldwin (@davidlbaldwin), author of The Belief Economy.

David is a big deal in the advertising world. He’s won tons of advertising awards, but David isn’t just about advertising, he’s about doing good in the world.

In this episode, we talk about the golden rule of marketing and the cultural shift that’s changing how the world’s biggest brands are marketing to consumers.

By the end of this episode, you’ll get a glimpse of how belief-driven brands will shape our future and how advertising is becoming more human.

Listen in to David to learn:

  • How to market to millennials and the iGen generation
  • Why the triple bottom line makes good marketing sense
  • What you can do today to shift how your organization views consumers

What made you want to write about advertising?

I have children; I have a 21-year-old and an 18-year-old, and the notion of my children as consumers is quite disturbing to me. Thinking about my own children as consumers made me rethink everybody as consumers.

The idea of consumerism and of quantifying a human being as a consumer is this one dimensional, very disturbing picture of what a human being is. It calls to mind a locust descending on a field to consume everything before moving on, but my kids are my kids and my family is my family. We all have mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters, and friends and neighbors and none of them are consumers.

Yet when we sit in our offices as marketing people, we talk about consumers. It’s a little bit of a false diagnostic.

You don’t cradle your kids in your arm and say, “Hello, little consumer.” That would just be weird.

I’m a capitalist through and through. I sell things for a living. Yet the relationship between myself and my kids and my family made me rethink how I do that.

Having kids of my own was probably the biggest fundamental shift for me as a marketer and an advertising person, and that really planted the seed for how I now view marketing and this book.

How has media consumption changed in the digital age?

Having experienced the growth of my two children, one of who is on the cusp of the millennial generation and the other who is fully part of the iGen generation, well, they have completely different relationships with brands than my generation.

For example, my 21-year-old son does not want to watch TV with me. He doesn’t want to watch TV at all, he thinks it’s stupid. He consumes all of his media on a mobile device, whereas I clearly remember watching many hours of TV at home. When I was little I would sit on my Dad’s lap and watch football. TV was a communal sort of campfire that we all gathered around, but that’s changed.

A teenager consumes media on a mobile phone.

Individuals now have full control over what they want to watch and how they want to watch it, so we’ve lost that bonding aspect to content consumption. It’s almost a loss. That alone was a sea change.

How did come up with the idea for your book, The Belief Economy?

As an advertising person I have some control over what I work on and I get very excited by companies and brands that are doing more than just selling, so I’ve always looked for those kinds of opportunities.

A great example of that is Burt’s Bees. I’ve worked with them for 6 years now and the thing I love about Burt’s Bees is they have what they call their “greater good model.”

The greater good model is based on a triple bottom line that includes things that are good for you, the consumer; things that are good for them, the business; and things that are good for everyone and everything. Everything that they do as a business has to fit within that model, so the question becomes, “Can you make money and do good things at the same time?”

It’s about having a positive impact on whatever world you’re living in.

Most people in the advertising industry would describe themselves as creative, and creative people tend to want to have some kind of positive impact, they want to make a difference. Advertisers don’t get up in the morning and say, “I think I’d like to create a cultural blight.”

“We’re now starting to see more and more brands like Burt’s Bees and Tom’s Shoes were the business model itself is wired around positive impact.”

That’s exciting, but there are a lot of brands that aren’t wired around positive impact, so how can advertisers help them create a positive impact even if the business model itself isn’t based on “doing good?”

Well, you can still have a positive impact, and you still have the power to solve a problem for people.

Michael Porter is a Harvard professor who put forward an idea called shared value over 10 years ago. Shared value is this notion that businesses are in a better position to solve society’s problems, compared to NGOs or governments, because businesses come up with solutions to problems and then scale them for a profit.

My idea was to then ask, “Can we look at advertising in the same way? What if advertising could be used to solve some of those problems as well?”

In essence, I wanted to figure out how I could use marketing to help brands make a positive difference in the world. So that’s where the idea for the book came from.

What’s the #1 takeaway from The Belief Economy?

As advertisers, we need to market people the way we would want to be marketed to. Nobody wants to be yelled at and sold to. Don’t leave your humanity at the door when you walk into your office in the morning.

“Remember that your speaking to human beings. They have problems that they’re trying to solve and they have thoughts and feelings and concerns that speak to those problems, so collaborate and co-create with them to solve those problems with your product and you will win.”

Not only will you sell more, but you’ll feel better about what you do and your audience will feel better about you.

This book is about using the tools you have at your disposal to market to your audience in a way that provides value to them.

The title of my book, The Belief Economy, refers to the buying power of millennials and iGen, which is huge. These generations are changing the nature of marketing. They rely less on traditional advertising channels and more on word of mouth from friends and family members. They’re sharing their experiences on social media which means that any one individual now has an incredible amount of influence.

A smartphone displaying shortcuts to various social media networks.

Another area I focus on in the book revolves around the fact that these generations are now entering the workforce and if you run a marketing company, they’re already working for you.

Half your workforce might be made up of millennials. These employees are wired around the idea of making things better, solving problems, having some kind of belief in a system. They’re very wired to care about what they’re doing and if you don’t pay attention to that, you’ll get left behind.

These two generations are changing marketing from the inside out, and in order to succeed as a marketer, you need to adapt. That’s the biggest takeaway from the book.

Can you give us some practical tools or guidelines for marketing in a way that provides value to consumers?

Probably the best example of this—and they were just named the campaign of the century—is the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.

A screen capture from Dove's Real Beauty campaign.

This certainly isn’t by accident. Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever has said that by 2020 every brand under the Unilever umbrella will have as its mission to have a positive social impact.

If you look at that Dove campaign specifically, they’re trying to change the conversation around beauty and this false sense of beauty that our society has adopted that says you have to be a certain size or your skin has to look a certain way to be considered beautiful.

As far as guidelines go, typically when you’re developing a marketing campaign you’ll have a marketing brief, this document that outlines the tone of voice and the central idea or thesis that you’re going to adopt for your campaign.

What I talk about in the book is how to take that document and the descriptions that it contains and turn them into behaviors. So let’s say you want your campaign to be joyful, well what actions can your brand take to create joy?

“That very simple action of turning a description into a list of actions creates a belief system of how your brand exists in the world. You now have a belief-driven brand.”

I’m going to use Burt’s Bees again as a quick example. One of the descriptors for their marketing brief might be “all-natural,” well they’ve taken that and turned it into an action: they will not make anything that’s less than 96% or 97% natural.

They’re on a journey to be a 100% natural across their entire product line, so I don’t know where they are on that journey right now, but that’s something that Burt’s Bees believes in and will always believe in. It’s a non-negotiable thing, and that resonates with their audience.

So, I would just say, so figure out your non-negotiables and turn your descriptors into actions and behaviors.

What would David Baldwin’s challenge to listeners be?

My first challenge would be to vote with your wallet. The way to effect change is to continue to use your dollars to make decisions.

Going a little deeper, you could look at your own workplace.

Is your company marketing to its audience in a way that helps them solve problems and provides them with value? If not, talk to them about it, help them understand the positive impact marketing can have, show them what’s happening, show them best practices, and how you can create value for both the organization and its audience.

If you’re a marketer yourself, take a marketing brief in your company and turn the descriptors into behaviors, or actions, and see what happens as you take that up the command structure in your company.

If you’re working in the gig economy and you’re a freelancer then you have the ultimate choice of who you want to work with. You’re already empowered to work for the companies that you want to work for.

“Start with what you respond to and what you love and go from there because those are the breadcrumbs that will always lead you to that golden rule of marketing: market to others as you would want to be marketed to.”