Marketing Expert Nancy Koehn

Hit consumers with aspirational marketing, and you'll take them--and your business--to new heights.

By Jenny Kee • May 14, 2001

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's no surprise that most consumers want more than just cheapprices and fast service. Although these things are important,they're only a small part of the equation when it comes tosuccessful marketing. So how do you figure out the rest of thatequation? According to Nancy Koehn, associate professor at HarvardBusiness School and author of numerous books, including her latest,Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers'Trust From Wedgwood to Dell, it all comes down to"aspirational marketing." In her book, Koehn details howEstée Lauder, Michael Dell, H.J. Heinz and others took theirbusinesses to the top using this marketing technique. Read on tosee how it applies to you. In yourbook, you talk about "aspirational marketing." Can youexplain this concept?

Nancy Koehn:The basic concept of "aspirational marketing" is reachingconsumers and helping them deal with, ameliorate and understandissues of social place and personal identity. For example, the wifeof King George III, Queen Charlotte, endorsed one of JosiahWedgwood's most popular lines of china. People could, by buyingWedgwood china, have a sense that they could aspire to living alifestyle enjoying the fruits of a class ahead of them. How isthis approach different from the bulk of marketing strategieswe've seen?

Koehn: My ownsense of the vast majority of entrepreneurial marketing effortstoday is that most of them have been oriented much more aroundfunctional benefits of a particular new product. So a certainInternet technology will allow consumers to communicate faster orit will be cheaper. Consumers care about a lot of things, and priceand time are two of them, but they are just two of at least 10critical preferences for consumers.[including] issues ofconvenience, control, community, self-identity and socialstanding. Can yougive an example illustrating this consumer behavior?

Koehn:Estée Lauder is a great example of someone who created aprestige segment. She'd been marketing cosmetics, sort of goingdoor-to-door to beauty parlors in New York in the '30s duringthe Great Depression. Why would women be interested in paying alittle more for a lipstick at a time when money was so tight? Theanswer is that women could have a sense of control over theirappearance, a sense of sophistication by paying a little bit morefor an Estée Lauder lipstick. So when she finally founded hercosmetics company in 1946, her value proposition to consumerswasn't lower prices for less; it was slightly higher prices fordepartment-store-distributed cosmetics. Estée Lauderunderstood that value was something that was affected by a lot ofthings, not just price. Reflectingon the mistakes and successes of the people in your book, whatadvice would you give entrepreneurs today?

Koehn: Thestory of the book isn't about six lucky, talented people. Thestory of the book is that there are incredibly important businesslessons to learn from these successes. Lesson one: Figure out a wayto communicate with your consumers to solicit feedback from them,especially early-on in the life of an entrepreneurial venture.Lesson two: Learn quickly from your mistakes, and don't beafraid to make quick adjustments. Lesson three: Figure out what youdo well as an entrepreneur and what you don't do well, and thenhire people to do what you can't. Lesson four: Look around youin a very creative way. The market is much broader than simply theleading company, the leading stock price or the venturecapitalist's best guess about a young market. The market hasall kinds of different facets to it. Walk the streets; getfirsthand knowledge of your product, your organization andespecially your consumer.

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