Building Demand While Killing Brand

Marketing leaders often see their task as stoking demand by building awareness and desire.

“Make it sexy!”

“Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

“Forget the features, sell the benefits.”


Glossy photos, glowing copy, a firm, smooth close.  Bring ’em on home, Marketers!

Nothing happens until someone sells something.  The art of creating desire; nothing would sell without it.  How else could we possibly meet this year’s top line goal?

Putting these popular ideas into practice might drive short-term demand, but they will kill your brand in the long-term.

The problem is, according to Joyce, in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, art that creates desire alone is pornography.  In the end, pornography is never satisfying, it’s the ultimate bait and switch.

Your customers expect much more from their experience with your products and services.

Customers hope for an experience of the sublime, something just short of pure heaven; not only in the product we doll-up for our catalogs and web pages, but from every interaction with us.  They don’t  click onto your site hoping to find something mediocre, they don’t order your product in hopes of getting something passable.  No, when customers interact with us, they hope, deep within, to experience the sublime.

We’ve all grown used to accepting better than usual, but our hope still smolders in our subconscious driving us onward.

Our deepest hope might be to find some proof that perfection of Form, a truly sublime experience, is possible.

Companies who have figured this out develop seemingly magical loyalty (Apple) and often cash to match (Apple).  Steve Jobs told Walter Issacson, “The most sublime thing I’ve ever seen are the gardens around Kyoto. I’m deeply moved by what that culture has produced, and it’s directly from Zen Buddhism.”

Of course, Joyce approached aesthetics and the sublime from a Catholic/Thomist perspective but the pursuit of the sublime, by Japanese Zen Buddhists or Irish Catholics shares some common characteristics:

Thomas Aquinas‘ aesthetics can be summarized as pursuing the following:

Integrity and perfection: Integritas sive perfectio

Harmony or due proportion: Consonantia sive debita proportio

The brightness or clarity of Form: Claritas sive splendor formae

Of course, Form emerges from the fundamental belief of Platonic Idealism, that the idea of the thing, its form/whatness/quiddity/essence is more real than its material/thisness/the particular  object before you.

A circle is a good example.  In theory or form, it is :

A round plane figure whose boundary (the circumference) consists of points equidistant from a fixed center.

In the material world, a  perfect circle has never been created… even in the most precisely machined material manifestation, one atom might be out of alignment and keep that particular manifestation of circleness from meeting the idea of circle that we can easily describe and imagine.

You might say, “I see circles all the time, get real.”  Well, that’s been said before:

Antisthenes: Plato, I see particular horses, but not horseness.

Plato: That is because you have eyes but no intelligence.

The best marketing and brand leaders understand the relationship between desire and the sublime, between pornography and art, between real products/real people, and Form.

Steve Jobs certainly did, and look where it took his products, his company, and his balance. sheet.

I imagine him not missing his money because now he’s happily joined the world of pure Idea.