Businesses are afraid to ask their customers the question, “Who do you want to be?”

Too often, the question corporate marketers ask is, “What does my customer need today?” The problem with this question is that it doesn’t generate the knowledge you need to create and innovate the products and services that your customer will need tomorrow. Brands become heroes to their customers when they answer a customer’s need before the customer actually realizes they need it.

Delivering what your customer needs in the here and now is absolutely necessary, but I would call that more of a transactional type of marketing and selling. Fill the current demand because the current demand is there for the taking. There’s nothing wrong with it; in fact, it’s the kind of marketing and selling that sustains businesses and (hopefully) makes them profitable.

But here’s a challenge: Devote more time, budget, and energy to creating and innovating on your products and services that will mean something prolific to your customers tomorrow. Today’s need may look very different than tomorrow’s.

I attended a digital marketing conference here in Cincinnati last week called the Digital Non-Conference. Over 300 marketing and technology professionals attended breakout sessions on various digital topics and listened to keynote speeches given by well-known local and national thinkers. One of those keynotes was from Chris Heile (Twitter: @ccheile), who leads a local creative agency called Hyperquake. Chris’s keynote was on the topic of aspirational design, a term I had never heard of, though I was immediately captivated because there was something in what he was relaying to the crowd that is so antithetical to how many marketers wield their craft.

Aspirational marketing, or design, starts by asking your customer the question that I began with: “Who do you want to be?” This is not meant to be a literal question that you ask your customers point-blank. Marketers should spend significant time and energy figuring out what their customers will want and need before they know what they will want and need. Equally, marketers need to concentrate on integrating a greater meaning or cause to their offerings. That meaning, or cause, doesn’t have to be a charitable cause, though that approach has worked well for many.

Here are just a few questions that may help you discover what your aspirational tie-in to your brand might be:

How can your customers use your products and services to help improve their lives in a personal or emotional way?
Can your products or services do more to solve problems that your customers face, or simply make their lives easier?
How can you help your customers become better versions of themselves? What does better mean to them?
Each of these questions is meant to probe deeper into your brand’s reason for being, to find out if you can integrate a more personal meaning to products and services that may currently only solve problems in a common way. Aspirational marketing and design helps you find your “blue ocean strategy” and discover a more inspirational, or aspirational, meaning.

I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg of aspirational marketing and design here, and I realize I’ve written this in very general terms. But I hope I’ve shared enough to inspire you to look into how you can be more aspirational.

Tell us in the comment area below if aspirational marketing has a place in your business, or if you are already doing it and can share your perspective.

In the meantime, here are some aspirational videos. The first video is from TOMS Shoes, a cause-based aspirational brand, and the second is from Nike, one of the classic aspirational brands.

TOMS Shoes