August 11, 2021
How Soft-Sell Advertising Helps You Build a Lifestyle Brand
Let’s face it. People are bored with conventional advertising. They’ve seen, read, and heard too much of products pitched in a loud and (annoyingly) intrusive manner. If you want to reach a contemporary audience, you need a different style. Finesse. Rather than hard selling, think of building an audience of brand evangelists who wholeheartedly believe in your message and how it resonates. The way to do this is with a soft-sell approach that captivates and entertains rather than talks at your audience. If you’re saying to yourself “Preach!”, let’s look at some strong examples of brands that succeed with this method.
What is Soft-Sell, Brand-Building Marketing?
Traditional advertising such as TV commercials and print ads tend to focus on benefits and features. An ad for a food product, for example, will talk about how great it tastes, how healthy it is or perhaps how reasonable it is compared to comparable products. While these may be valid points, they are really focused on the product rather than the brand. Soft-sell advertising takes a different approach.
- Products are in the background rather than pushed in the audience’s face. For example, we might see people consuming a soft drink rather than talking about it.
- The emphasis is on telling a story and setting a mood. Readers or viewers absorb a certain message (or even better, a feeling) and come to associate this with the brand.
- There’s no aggressive pitch or call-to-action. A traditional ad might say something like, “Hurry, while supplies last!” Soft-sell marketing doesn’t use such tactics. People are engrossed in the story and free to make their own decisions. The influence is less direct but often more powerful this way. They interact with it because they want to.
Examples of Effective Soft-Sell Marketing
These videos illustrate the power of building a brand and telling entertaining stories.
This video is about two women who raise and train sled dogs. It has the look and tone of a nature documentary more than a commercial. The six minutes of the video feature dogs, the people who care for them, and the dramatic Northern landscape. No one mentions a brand or product. It’s only at the end that we see that the video was sponsored by B&W, a company that makes trailer hitches. Rather than having to listen to someone droning on about a product, we are immersed in a pristine environment that suggests freedom and tranquility. The unspoken message is that B&W Trailer Hitches are a valuable tool to help you live out your dreams.
Yeti, a company that makes premium coolers and outdoor accessories, is one of the best examples of soft-sell marketing. They’ve created many compelling videos, including the Hungry Life series. This video shows Chef Eduardo Garcia traveling the rugged region of Yellowstone National Park where he forages for food and cooks meals in nature. We watch him pick plants, fish, and cook in an oven he builds on the spot. Yeti coolers are on hand but never mentioned. Viewers are treated to the beautiful landscape and left to imagine what it would be like to follow in Garcia’s footsteps. Yeti is promoting a lifestyle here rather than products.
Try is an in-the-moment, emotionally gripping short film about a barrel racer who suffers a serious accident and struggles to recover and resume her passion. The come-from-behind theme is found in many compelling movies because the drive to overcome challenges has universal appeal. Kim, the heroine of this story, (spoiler alert) literally gets back on the horse after a life-threatening injury. Trailer hitches are seen in the background but there’s no need to explicitly discuss them as they’re an organic part of the story line. As with Sixty-Three Dog Night, also from B&W, this film is about people, nature, and our shared respect for the underdog. A heartwarming story about the power of the human spirit in a stunning Western setting gets the message across far more effectively than advertising.
While the three above videos feature nature, Nike’s video is set in a fast-paced urban environment. Young Londoners are shown running around the city and playing their favorite sports with an upbeat soundtrack in the background. As with many Nike ads, the branding is subtle while the focus is on the action. The video is a playful competition among athletes, school kids, and ordinary people who try to outdo each other with the difficulty of their training. Nike succeeds in portraying an active, goal-oriented lifestyle without having to overtly promote its products.
Burt is the character behind Burt’s Bees, a brand known for its personal care products. Burt’s Bees targets customers who appreciate nature and living a simple and holistic lifestyle. In The Nature of Burt and other videos, the brand shares lifestyle tips rather than touting its products. In this short film, Burt, a colorful character with a long beard, comes across like someone’s wise and affable grandfather as he talks about his interests and passions such as travel and animals. He’s not selling anything, but his folksy demeanor has a strong appeal to Burt’s Bees’ customers. This guy is a better voice for the brand than any CEO.
Applying these Lessons to Your Own Brand
Companies such as B&W, Yeti, Nike, and Burt’s Bees have mastered the art of soft selling and building brands based on interests and lifestyles. This approach has worked well for these and other businesses. Yeti, for example, has become a high-end brand that’s currently valued at $1.5 billion. People who buy their coolers, some of which sell for over $1,000, are buying into a lifestyle as much as purchasing a high-quality product. Yeti’s sales skyrocketed from $9 million to $450 million in about six years as it created a market for luxury coolers.
How do you apply the techniques used in these videos to build your own lifestyle brand? Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
- Consider the interests and aspirations of your audience. Yeti and B&W customers love the great outdoors. Both athletes and just us ordinary people loyal to the Nike brand strive to stay active and reach our goals. When you identify what your customers want, you can start to build your own lifestyle brand.
- Use Netflix as a model rather than TV commercials. The idea is to capture your audience’s attention and entertain them rather than reciting a laundry list of features.
- Tell a story. Even a simple story with characters, a plot, and challenges is more compelling than a conventional pitch. Appeal to emotions but not in a patronizing way. Make sure it’s authentic to the storyline.
- Pay attention to feedback. You may not hit the mark with every effort. Track your results and encourage people to tell you their honest opinions. Make adjustments as necessary.
Marketing is going through a period of transformation. You can no longer count on reaching people with old-fashioned advertising. (See more on that in a previous blog post here.) Rather than trying to sell, sell, sell with every message, seek to build a passionate audience. If you need help finding the right voice for your business, Scenic Road can find and create authentic brand connections through storytelling. To find out more about our services, contact us.