Change this one word in your brand story and change everything

For years, marketers have focused on delivering an enticing brand proposition to a target audience — one that would demonstrate the “What’s In It For Me” for the audience. In one of the agencies I worked in, everyone used this idea so often that it became known simply by the acronym WIIFM — pronounced “whiff-em”. People would say things like, “I know that feature is important, but what’s the WIIFM?”

The WIIFM serves our base instincts — greed and selfishness. It has an every-man-for-himself posture. There is no regard for what is best collectively. It isolates the prospect and promotes the “I’m going to get mine” attitude.

Time to climb up on my soapbox for a minute.

This approach fuels what we’re all sick and tired of today in our world. From the crass consumerism to the divisions we so deeply feel. The scary thing is that it works so well. Because it taps into a deep need we have that can be traced back to ancient survival instincts. Marketers know this. And the less scrupulous ones exploit it. Hell, even the not-so-unscrupulous ones may not overtly exploit this, but they benefit from a genteel form of fear-mongering by focusing solely on the WIIFM.

Okay, enough time on the soapbox.

So what are we going to do? Simply asking people to ignore their instinct is not going to work. But there is an alternative. We can appeal to another instinct that is equally as powerful. What’s more, appealing to this other instinct unlocks something even more desirable.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows us the order of what’s important to us. At the bottom are the basics — survival needs (like food and water) followed by safety needs. These lowest needs are the reason why the “What’s In It For Me” has such a powerful effect on us. It triggers our caveman instinct to ensure we get what we need to make it to another day. Marketers still prey on our almost uncontrollable reaction to these base needs. Because it’s easy. It’s also manipulative in too many instances.

But look one step up from these base needs and you find the need for belonging and love — fulfilled by social connection (relationships and friends.)

Now I’m going to assume that your organization is not focused on serving cavemen. I’m going to assume that, in today’s modern world, securing survival and safety is much easier for our prospects than their cavemen brethren of old. And, I’m going to assume that you’re interested in something more than triggering someone’s fears for your short-term gain.

If we can assume all this, then we can step up to address the more evolved needs that our prospects have. We can serve their need for belonging and love.

Serving this need has incredible advantages. For starters, we don’t have to feel like sleazebags by constantly spiking people’s fear about their survival and safety needs. But more powerfully, we can help people feel like they are part of something. Like their actions go beyond fulfilling their needs to helping have an impact on the world around them.

Here is the difference in this approach. Speak to someone’s survival and safety needs and you’ll trigger a reaction of self-preservation. This causes people to isolate and guard what they have. But speak to someone’s need for belonging and love and you’ll promote connection — and more powerfully, sharing.

Imagine your message spreading because it is helping people feel a sense of belonging and love. Imagine how that would help people feel about you. Not just today, but well into the future.

There is a simple way to start serving our prospects’ need for belonging and love. Just switch out one word.

Change “you” to “let’s”.

Here’s what I mean. Rather than speaking to their “What’s In It For Me” we are going to promote the “What’s In It For Us”. When I say us, I mean all of us. Not just your prospect. Not just you. It’s both. Plus the community where you work. It can even go as far as impacting the world we all live in. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at an example of how this comes to life. Let’s say we have a product or service that helps prospects save time. Here is how we would portray it under the old way and the new way.

The “What’s In It For Me” approach
You will free up more time so you can do the things in life that are important to you.

The “What’s In It For Us” approach
Let’s free up more time so we can do the things in life that are more important to us.

Do you see what’s happening here? In the “What’s In It For Me” approach, it’s about individual gain. In the “What’s In It For Us” approach, it’s about all of us. It’s about starting what feels like a movement. It promotes togetherness and communal achievement.

Imagine the things you could do to help support this message. You could promote an effort to have people volunteer in their communities (using that extra time they freed up). You could give them a way to share their stories of the good things they did with their extra time (helping them feel connected to a larger community of like-minded people). You could do these things and more. Let this new expression of your brand story fuel your creativity.

Here’s the great part — your prospects will still understand that there is individual gain to be had, it’s just that there is so much more they can experience when it shifts from “me” to “we”. And there is so much more reason to share it with others.

This is exactly what purpose-driven brand stories do.

Of course, it’s important to realize that this is a just a simple example. You have to earn the right to change that “you” to “let’s”. In other words, if you haven’t fully clarified your purpose (or what I call your Big Audacious Meaning), then it will be more challenging for your prospects to believe you are a “we”-driven brand. But even this can be an evolution. It can be a journey that your prospects take with you. Just be transparent and invite them along. Doing so can even deepen their affinity for your organization.

We have the power to transform our brand. To reach beyond the most base needs to serve a more powerful yearning that we all feel, but too many brands leave unaddressed. Either because of lack of awareness or worse — fear or laziness.

Step into this opportunity. Look back at your brand messages and see how they sound when you replace “you” with “let’s”. See how it transforms them. Then use that as your launch pad to discover just how powerful your brand story can become.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.

Originally published at

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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