Aspirational marketing appears easy to do. As a health business, aspirational marketing involves posting many pictures of slim young things doing some form of exercise or laughing with salad.

As a consultant or coach building a personal brand, plenty of aspirational photos of yourself, or careful flat lays on desks with muted colours, gorgeous offices or enviable holiday resorts.

Share your rock bottom story to communicate depth, but only with the surety of hard-won wisdom. Acquire some equally aspirational “fitsquad” besties or “business besties” and organise a trip away – preferably somewhere photogenic like Byron Bay. Take countless selfies and group shots, and hashtag the hell out them: #bbf #businessbesties #yolo should work.

Aspirational marketing works

aspirational marketingBefore you accuse me of cynicism and pop off to laugh with your salad, I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t craft aspiration in marketing.

Aspiration in marketing is necessary. We’re not simply selling goods or services, we’re selling transformation – from where our prospects are currently at, to where they want to be.

Even if you’re transforming a chaotic shoebox of receipts into a client’s sense of achievement, organisation and wealth, via a sizeable tax return, people want a transformative experience.

Marketing without aspiration is not noticed amid the noise and clutter of your competitors’ messages. And nobody’s buying a brand that looks outdated, ugly or confused.

Your brand needs to be visually appealing, insightful and authoritative (but not condescending) if it’s to be noticed, relevant, and memorable. It needs to attract the attention of your particular ideal client and convince them that your business is the conduit for the transformation they seek. And it must also be believable.

Blame the Facebook ads

While dodgy dudes bending truth in business have always been around, the rise and rise of Facebook ads has made this more prevalent. It’s easy to create an attractive video and make all sorts of claims. Your marketing can infer that the hotel room you filmed your videos in or the boutique hairdresser where you had your hair done is, in fact, your home (which is actually a perfectly acceptable, but unphotogenic, rented apartment).

In other words, it can be tempting to overdo the aspiration and stray into no-man’s land of lies.

You can hire someone to manipulate Google search results to bury bad reviews further down results pages. It’s straightforward to target your Facebook ads to fans of successful digital marketers and online business owners.

And it’s easy for people to believe these ads. But it’s also easy to expose a fraud, meaning wasted efforts and a damaged reputation.

The underdog narrative

One of the most common types of aspiration is the underdog story. The kid with the terrible background who nobody believed in, takes their destiny in their own hands and, through grit and serendipity, becomes a raging success.

We all love a good underdog story. But don’t be tempted to use this as your narrative if it’s not true.

We have all faced challenging times. Any one with any life experience has had tragedy, trauma, grief, failure. If this is relevant to your ideal clients and business and if you’re able to sensitively share this story, it can be hugely inspiring and motivating to people. You can create meaning and usefulness from tragedy.

But don’t overplay it. If your underdog story is of being bullied, partying too hard, or feeling out of place, it’s not interesting because it’s everybody’s story. Making this a big deal just makes you look unworldly.

“You can do anything!” cheer squad

Aspiration strays into obnoxiousness when we confuse privilege, luck and smarts. Making claims that anybody can do anything neglects the very real and powerful influences of privilege and systemic discrimination.

A business which starts with a $100,000 gift from wealthy relatives, where the business owner was financially supported by their family so that they could reinvest all profits back into the support of a team to grow the business quickly, is vastly different from a single parent growing their business within school hours, with no start up capital and no ability to reinvest money back into their business.

Some of us have won the genetic lottery with health, education, support, natural talent and good looks. While we need to use these talents, we should never assume that everyone has equal access and privilege.

The individualistic philosophy so prevalent in the US – that hard work and self-determination are key – minimises the political, economic, and socio-economic structures that influence individual’s lives, choices and businesses. To suggest that grit and self-belief is the only thing needed is not only untrue, but obnoxious and repelling.

There’s a lot more to making better choices than just do it.

Sharing light and shadow

It’s impossible to be happy all the time. Similarly, someone who only shares their angst, neuroses, and vulnerabilities tips into unbelievability. Constant public existential crises drains an audience with healthy boundaries, provides entertainment fodder for others who aren’t going to become buyers, and attracts people who have similar drama-fuelled existences.

Your marketing attracts a particular type of person, who will refer other, similar people. If you’re attracting the wrong target market, look first at what your marketing says.

Don’t confuse authenticity in marketing with self-interest and verbosity. You do not need to share every little thing you do, think or feel. Your branding and marketing is separate from your identity (LINK}, no matter how closely aligned your business brand and personality are.

Evidence and promises

How to avoid being unethical in aspirational marketing:

  • The lazy business claims to be “the best”, “the only”, “the favourite”. Do better.
  • Don’t promise something that you’re unable to measure, let alone deliver on.
  • Don’t assume that everybody has the same abilities, access, or funds as you.
  • If you are targeting a particular demographic or type of person, make sure they can see themselves represented in your marketing.
  • Don’t time your “big reveal” about your battles with depression, anxiety or other things for just before you launch something big. It’s emotionally manipulative and it can only be done once.
  • Don’t shame or guilt people into buying.
  • Don’t talk down to your audience so they’re intimidating into buying.

Lest this article makes you want to bury your head in the sand and stop marketing, remember that people with integrity worry about these things. People without integrity never consider the detrimental impact they may be creating, unless it impacts their profits.

If you’ve considered these these ideas before before, your voice is needed. If you have self-doubt about how truthful or representative your marketing is, your voice is needed. If you’ve felt the sting of others’ insensitivity in their business communications, your voice is needed.

Don’t stop using aspiration and emotion in marketing. Create a sense of excitement, community and progress. You do more than what’s written on your business card.

Continually seek feedback from clients and prospects. Be diligent in measuring your client’s progress before, during and after their transformation and turn these into case studies and testimonials to share and inspire others.

The louder these obnoxious Facebook ads become, the more we need your thoughtfulness and integrity. There is someone for everyone in business (and life). By crafting your aspirational marketing with thought, care and integrity, you’ll attract similar good people. You’re one of the good guys, yes?