More on brands and desire

I wrote recently about the nature of desire in brand design. The tendency for brands to fall back on the stimulation of desire (for novelty, more power, bolstering of self-image) is fundamentally at odds with a sustainable approach to business. But that tendency is so fundamental to the way brands currently work; it’s critical that we examine it; look for alternatives; ways to move beyond this impasse.

As I noted then, Muji have an interesting take on this, though their (claimed) refusal to pander to desire is not a position that I’ve seen any other brand take.

In this article about the role of brands in changing attitudes to sustainable consumption, Anna Simpson of Green Futures calls out the shift to service models as another way in which brands can evolve.

The question begs: what can a brand do when the really sustainable option is a shift away from sales altogether? “If we take a serious look at sustainable consumption,” says MacKenzie, “we have to look at radical innovation, including the fundamental shift from products to services.”

For brands, leasing a product or offering a service makes the consumer much more likely to come back for more. It’s a major new business trend, and one that could send profit margins through the roof. Imagine. Instead of spending time, money and sweat on making more stuff, offer consumers the same product again and again. Service-based brands are cropping up in every sector, from media (LOVEFiLM, iTunes) to transport (Streetcar). Start-ups like WhipCar are even encouraging consumers to put their own vehicle up for rental. It’s a significant shift, and one that threatens to outmanoeuvre brands that cling to more traditional models.

In a service oriented model, the reliance on stimulation of desire can be lessened because the consumer is paying a recurring fee for the use of the service, not being persuaded to continually buy new, more desirable versions of the product. A good example is River Simple, an innovative new car company. As they say:

We will sell mobility as a service, not a car as a product. This will encourage us to produce cars that are robust and long-lasting, and align our interests with the those of users and the planet.

I’d like to see more brands interrogating this problem: how can we continue to grow whilst making less?