Once upon a time, if you wanted to sell more widgets, you worked hard to make your widgets better than other people’s widgets and then you told everyone about their superior performance.
Then someone discovered aspirational marketing. Now, many many companies invite you to emotionally invest in their brands and create a relationship of shared experience and values rather than just make a purchase of the best product. Most academics trace aspirational marketing back to the 1970s but I think it goes a bit further back: take the American Royal Worcester Corset Co, who had spotted in the 1890s that buyers of Worcester porcelain aspired to be collectors of luxury rather than just tableware customers and wanted in on this successful brand.
According to a BBMG/GlobeScan study, 39% of the global population are aspirational consumers, who are “defined by their love of style, shopping and social status. They also share a desire to consume responsibly and influence their peers based on shared interests, passions and values.”
In theory, museums ought to be brilliant at aspirational marketing – we have style and status to share, along with emotional stories that our communities can easily and deeply buy into.
Madresfield Court in Worcestershire is the ancestral home of the Lygon family. The family of the 7th Earl were the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. The house has many gorgeous features but this photo shows my favourite spot – the drinks table in the library. This absolutely sells the story of the house to me: intellectual, fun-loving, of a class and income bracket that pre-dinner cocktails are an every day social moment, with a heritage that they take for granted. The rest of the house is wonderful to admire, but this spot makes me wish I’d been born a Lygon.
I know that Madresfield wouldn’t consider this little corner their finest asset and I think that most heritage organisations are similarly much more knowledgeable about their best collection objects/historical significance rather than their emotional connection to their audience.
Dan Hill makes it quite clear that this could be a problem for us in Emotionomics: Leveraging Emotions for Business Success (2010): “At a strategic level, the key point is that emotions matter. Emotions are central, not peripheral, to both marketplace and workplace behaviour. As a result, companies able to identify, quantify and thereby act on achieving emotional buyin or acceptance from consumers and employees alike will enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage.
“It’s actually more important (and lucrative) to be on-emotion than on-message.”