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  • Writer's pictureMarvin Bowe

Idea 5: Wise Brand, Foolish Brand

The art and science behind successful messaging in a crowded market.

Plato taught us that the wise talk because they have something to say, whereas the foolish speak because they have to say something. This philosophic viewpoint remains a modern-day thought provoker. For me, the viewpoint recently triggered some curiosities from a marketing perspective. For example, do most brands have something to say? More importantly, how can marketers ensure their products grow into wise brands? Of course, this motivated me to dive into brand communications and share my point of view on cultivating wisdom.

As consumers, we are bombarded with over 5000 advertisements per day, whether it be in our personal and/or professional lives. On the flip side, as professional marketers, we create advertisements and draft product messages pondering, “How are we going to break through the noise?” and “How can we make our product become a new standard in an ever-crowded market? Despite best intentions to differentiate a product from the masses, oftentimes brands communicate “foolishly.” Product puffery and feature boasting can leave customers wondering whether marketers actually had something to say or merely had to say something.

A “wise brand” makes connections with its customers. It is these connections that cut through the clutter and get to the essential reasons to believe in a brand. However, these connections don’t simply occur by happenstance. Rather, there is a fine balance of art and science that goes into making them.

Messaging for a wise brand starts with an understanding of our customer’s needs. In the mid-1940s, Abraham Maslow proposed a psychological theory called The Hierarchy of Needs, whereby he explained that all human motivation can be “laddered up” from physiological needs (e.g., health, safety) to psychological needs (e.g., belongingness, esteem) and eventually reaching self-fulfillment needs (e.g., achieving one’s full potential). The ability to effectively appeal to one or more of these motivational drivers is key to brand success. We, as marketers, have our best chance of connecting with customers when our brand messages appeal to their needs in a relevant, meaningful way. Understanding these needs and linking them to attributes is what a wise brand does well.

Knowledge (product attributes/benefits) + Experience (customer needs/values) = Wisdom (brand messages/promotions)

Most consumers of brand messages, including health care professionals and patients, think that they select a product to perform a tangible "duty," like purchasing a mop to clean household floors or buying a medicine to relieve heartburn. It may even appear a simple rationalization that we choose one product over another merely because of attributes ... but this, at best, is only part of the story. As humans, our ultimate goal is to find value. How a product provides the means for us to reach this goal will determine whether or not the product becomes essential.

In the Journal of Marketing, Jonathan Gutman introduced us—marketers—to the Means-End Chain Model, whereby he explained how values govern human behaviors. More importantly, though, he explained that by linking attributes of a product (means) directly or indirectly to valued states (ends), marketers can change behavior, and ultimately build a brand relationship with customers. Building chains with target customers helps us understand how they link attributes of products with particular benefits (or, more broadly, consequences of use), and how these consequences satisfy their personal values.

As marketers, we understand product attributes. In many cases, during product research, a manufacturer will go so far as to rank attributes by discussing the potential consequences of each attribute with its target customers. However, the weakest link in most attribute-type research is understanding WHY said consequences matter to the customer. It is the WHYs that help marketers derive “end” values, including personal values (i.e., beliefs about acceptable behavior of an individual) and social values (i.e., beliefs about acceptable behaviors to a society) for building a wise brand. Consequently, these values become the criteria that guide product use and that develop and sustain attitudes towards brand loyalty.

Every product attribute can and should connect to consequences, and ultimately, personal values. Today’s wise brands secure their position in the marketplace based on links that come across to customers as natural/emotional connections (“feels right”). This emotional bond is not limited to advertising creative either; it is important to many, if not all, facets of communication. The connections made on an emotional level are the innate attraction of a wise brand, the kind that gets the customer to purchase the brand when a generic version is available right beside it for half price. 

The fine balance of creativity and science within means-end chaining provides us the tools required to understand our customers’ decision-making process. Understanding the WHYs behind brand selection is the end goal and should be understood before we, as marketers, put pen to paper and start drafting messages. Why do some people buy Coke over Pepsi? Why do “soccer moms” drive SUVs more so than Minivans? Why is Lipitor selected over Crestor, or vice versa, when studies continue to show both are equally safe and effective for cholesterol managment?

Means-End Chaining is a proven research method Biophilia uses to link attributes of products to values your customers hold near-and-dear to their hearts. These links form the chains that gives us the information we need to connect and stay connected with your customers, ultimately forging brand loyalty.

Let’s connect and discuss how Biophilia can partner to uncover your customers values to create means-end chains and draft marketing messages that help grow your brand!


  1. SJ Insights. New Research Sheds Light on Daily Ad Exposures. Available at:

  2. Wikipedia. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Available at:

  3. Penn State University. Means End Chains and Laddering. Available at:

  4. Gutman J. A means-end chain model based on consumer categorization processes. Journal of Marketing. 1982;46(2):60-72. Available at:

  5. Lin CF. Attribute-consequence-value linkages: a new technique for understanding customers’ product knowledge. Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing. 2002;10(4):339-352. Available at:

  6. American College of Cardiology. Statins: Atorvastatin vs. Rosuvastatin. Available at:



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