Not too long ago, a well-known fast food restaurant chain ran commercials with the tagline, “Good Mood Food.” The implied promise was that unlike other fast food restaurants, this one would make us feel good. Unfortunately, when this campaign was running, provided an example of consumer empowerment in a survey of 115,000 consumers who rated it one of the worst commercials in America.

Old school marketing suggests that every ad should entice consumers with an explicit promise backed up by some logical support for that promise. The problem is that consumers have grown up faster than advertising and have found their own consumer empowerment. This formula may have worked in the past, but today’s consumer is more socialized. Technology continues to provide more ways to discriminate between legitimate promises and puffery, creating consumer empowerment.

Audiences have matured. The Internet has contributed to their resourcefulness and empowerment. Consequently, consumers are more able to make-up their minds without our archaic attempts at persuasion. Additionally, given the opportunity to forum their complaints for all to read in social media, they are less forgiving when expectations aren’t met. A recent President once said, “Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.” For today’s consumer, no truer words were ever besmirched.

The Solution? Consumer Empowerment.

Persuasion and EmpowermentContrast the “Good Mood Food” tagline to Taco Bell’s “Live Mas.” If you visit Taco Bell’s website, you’ll see a manifesto that talks about the importance of things like “kicking up some dirt, making waves, trying what you’ve never done before.” And in that manifesto there isn’t even a hint of a promise. The Taco Bell Brand is all about consumer empowerment. It is about a belief to subscribe to, a value to uphold. And bold, “never-been-done-before products like Doritos Tacos support what this brand stands for. Instead of selling a promise, Taco Bell is selling a worldview and using its products as support for that worldview. Is anyone truly surprised why Taco Bell is growing stronger than any other fast food company in America?

USP’s Aren’t Enough Anymore.

Evidence is abounding that today’s empowered consumer wants and expects more than boastful descriptions of our USPs (Unique Selling Propositions). And they have little patience for hyperbole. They want inspiration, and they have empowerment. More importantly, they want their intelligence and aspirations respected. Marketers who continue to rely on the promise/support syllogism will continue to risk punishment, especially when that coupling is suspicious. If you’re like me, you have to look for the button on your remote control that changes channels or the one that increases volume. But locating that fast forward button is immediate.

Certainly we want consumers to understand and appreciate us. But consumers want us do to a better job of understanding and appreciating them. Specifically they want us to recognize what they believe is true about their lives. They want something more than unique features and benefits. Beyond any functional need we can satisfy, there’s no satisfaction that quite measures up to feeling supported. Consequently, consumers need reinforcement for beliefs they can live by, not the brags that our brands live by. They want to know that somebody truly gets what they’re all about—their life challenges, desires, and aspirations. And they will gravitate to brands that demonstrate rather than manufactured compassion.

Form Is Content.

For today’s consumer, form is content. The way we approach them says as Consumer empowermenet is happeningmuch or more than the words we use to tell them who we are and what we do. We can entice consumers with chest-thumping, self-congratulatory claims all we want. But what our audiences really want and need is reinforcement for the way they see the world. They want and need to belong to something bigger than a new sandwich. Brands bought can become extensions of our individual causes. If all we are selling is our product’s function or how we outperform, out taste, and outdo the competition, we are missing a huge opportunity. Keep in mind that someone who follows what your brand stands for is more valuable than someone who just buys it. There’s no greater endorsement than one that comes from a believer who is emotionally involved in a brand’s purpose.

Look Inside

So before you hire outsiders to find the single most powerful promise that will entice consumers, look inside your organization for ways you can empower them. It’s far more effective to find what you stand for from your history, your vision, and the beliefs that are passionately practiced within your organization. And if what you stand for is nothing more than your product’s point of difference, look harder to find the point of view that fuels the difference. Find that unique cause around which your employees and your customers will rally. Promote that through your advertising! But don’t forget to live it. Because your best guard against competition and your best chance chance for success will always be found in your walk, not in your talk. And the more everyone in your organization is walking together, the more likely your customers will walk with you.