THE BLOG
08/19/2013 04:55 pm ET Updated Oct 19, 2013

Inspiration vs. Manipulation

Can you imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. needed an advertising campaign to attract the public to him? Or what about Gandhi ... how hard do you think it would have been for him to build a Twitter following? And then there is the late, truly great Steve Jobs - was it a big marketing blitz that earned this college dropout an invitation to give a commencement speech at Stanford University or cause that speech to go viral and get quoted year after year?

Of course not. These people offered something special. Something that no marketing blitzes, no viral videos and no big advertising budgets can do on their own. They offered inspiration.
Take a look at all the great brands out there, and you'll find one thing in common: They don't sell things. They stand for things. A monumental difference. Because when you sell, you put yourself in the position of having to convince people you are worth following. And this always requires manipulation of some kind, be that manipulating price, product, positioning, or marketing message.

Conversely, when you stand for something, you inspire. You take a stand for something, usually bigger than yourself, and people relate. It motivates rather than manipulates. Motivation has the potential to magnetize individuals, communities, nations and even our entire planet.

Brands that inspire draw us to them because of who they are, what they stand for and how they do business. Those that manipulate try to drag us to them. Their effort to convince us takes all kinds of forms - everything from promising you'll get the hot girl (insert your favorite beer ad here) to offering good deals (prices slashed!) to using time sensitive promotions (24 hour sale, hurry down!) to peddling sexual attraction and prowess (aka perfume and cologne ads). The list goes on and on.

And, I'm not going to lie, manipulation does work. It can create a buzz. But be warned: a buzz won't last. In fact, it's been called the one hit wonder of the marketing world. Because before long, someone else is going to come along with their own buzz-worthy fad and steal the stage. Then your brand's fifteen minutes is over.

Manipulation is a trick. And tricks only work for so long before people grow tired of them. Which is why brands that choose to try and build sales through manipulation have to spend so much money on advertising campaigns and marketing blitzes. They are always having to change their strategy, change their messaging, "innovate" their products, conjure up new campaigns and so forth.

Now, let's take a look at the brands that inspire. Brands like Nike, TOMS Shoes and Virgin. When was the last time you saw Nike slash prices? Have you ever seen a big Super Bowl commercial for TOMS? Was there ever a day when you doubted Sir Richard Branson's conviction for what he was setting out to achieve?

No, of course not. There was no need to create sales or gimmicky commercials or reinvent their marketing messages to draw the buying public to them. They chose instead to inspire. And it paid off in spades. Regardless of how long they have been in business, each of these brands has pulled in huge profits and managed to remain relevant across all age demographics, year after year after year. And the reason for this is that inspiration never goes out of style. It's always trending.

So, how can you become a brand that inspires? By creating a positive social impact. Become a brand that makes a profit in a way that profits the world. Not only will this bring humanity to your brand, which creates an emotional connection to people and, in turn, fosters brand loyalty, but it will also reposition you to tap into some of the strongest buying and business trends in the 21st Century Marketplace and set you up for greater success in the following ways.

1.) Inspiring brands make more money. 91% of global consumers are likely to switch to buying from brands that support a good cause. Conscious consumerism is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. People work hard for their money. They want to spend it in a way that will make a difference. And they are demanding brands help them make that difference.

2.) Inspiring brands attract and retain better talent. Studies show 58% of employees and executives would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company. And 100% of the workforce today says that a company's CSR policy influences their decision to apply there. If your business is short on budget and tall on inspiration, you can still compete with bigger companies to recruit top talent.

3) Inspiring brands are investor friendly. Many venture capitalists will now only invest in double bottom line companies. So much so, in fact, that it has given rise to a whole new category called Impact Investing in which investment dollars are given only to companies with the intention of generating a positive social impact in their communities, countries and the planet. In the past 10 years, Impact Investing has gone from $12 million to over $400 billion and has a potential investment opportunity between $400 billion and $1 trillion in the next decade.

4.) Inspiring brands create legacies. Man's search for meaning is a quest as old as mankind itself. We want, need and strive to make the time we have mean something. And since a vast majority of that time is going to be poured into what you do for a living, your best bet of looking back and feeling proud of what your life has stood for is to make your career mean something. Let me ask you a question: What do you want the toast on your 80th birthday to be about - how much money you made or what a great life you lived?

With an inspiring brand, you can have both.