Five Theories We Think Everyone Should Know

Our industry is one that is built on theories. Since marketing is not an exact science, approaches tend to be generally led by trends and expert opinions.


With this in mind we thought we’d gather together the five theories which have influenced us the most:


  1. Start with Why

Waaaaay back in 2009 Simon Sinek articulated the value of brand purpose better, and more simply, than anyone else had managed to.
In what was basically a reversal of the brand ladder, Sinek pointed out that, whilst all companies know what they do, and many know how they do it (e.g. via a USP or differentiator), most companies do not know why (besides to make profit). Using the Apple’s of the world as his key case studies, Sinek presented a compelling and widely influential argument for organisations to “start with why” in order to be more appealing and inspiring.


  1. The Rebel Sell

Again, in the noughties, Heath and Potter presented a compelling argument against the notion that consumerism is driven by conformity. Instead they proposed that, because most people are using brands to assert their individuality, it is the non-conformists who drive spending. In the search for exclusivity, their definition of a superficial ‘rebel consumer’ (who was not interested in political or economic consequences, but merely in status distinction) reminded all brands of the need to sharpen their values and find some edge.



  1. The Experience Economy

What began as a theory, has snowballed into a way of life for many brands. When they wrote their book on the subject, Pine and Gilmore focused on the importance of the brand experience at all touchpoints; and today we understand more than ever what great experiences do for brands.


We know, for example from psychology, that people are defined by what they do far more that what they own – experiences feed our identity and deliver social value.


It is for this reason that the value we get from experiences in life actually grows over time (rather than diminishes in the way physical objects do). Rather than forget a good life experience, people enhance their memories by talking about what they have done, revisiting photos and embellishing their stories. Great experiences can be the comms gift that keeps on giving.

  1. Adam Ruins Millennials

There’s no book for this one, but we totally buy educational comic Adam Conover’s opinion on Millennials. In his brilliant talk for Deep Shift in 2016 Conover argued that Millennials are little more than a name we (or rather a couple of historians called Neil Howe and William Strauss) allocated people reaching adulthood around the Millennium.


Hot off the heels of Gen X there was a need to label the next generation; but, although their behaviour is influenced somewhat by their technology, Millennials really don’t have a unique set of characteristics. Holding up previous labels for, amongst others, Hippies and the MTV generation, he illustrated the extent to which generational thinking has always been reductive and condescending, reminded us that understanding audiences is less about the lazy label and more about defining lifestyles which may (but very well may not) relate to when someone was born.

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  1. Brands as Servants

OK, we’ve snuck our own theory in at the end, but only because it’s that good. It goes like this:


Brands have been on a journey since marketing began. Initially they were the teachers, preaching what consumers should and shouldn’t buy and trusting them to listen. Some teachers were engaging and entertaining, others formal and functional, but the conversation was always one way.

Then, around the turn of the century, brands started to become the consumer’s peer. The likes of Egg and Innocent paved the way for a new brand voice, one that was more human and humble; but, particularly with the advent of social media, many lost their way. Too many brands became pre-occupied with their own stories and mistakenly tried to become actual friends with consumers, expecting far too much from them in terms of engagement and interaction.


Today, the brands which resonate (from Apple to Google, Facebook to Fitbit, Uber and Airbnb) have learnt how to provide incredible services. They have moved on from disruption and distraction and, instead, understand what their audiences need … and how give it to them. From big gestures (Always and feminism) to helpful apps, brands are learning that it’s not all about them (and actually, it never was).