Review by Taylor Berrett
The relationship between consumers and brands has never been as challenging to navigate as it is now. In the past, brands could present their customer-facing products and imagery and get away with any manner of underhanded dealings behind the scenes. But now, consumers are highly aware of brands’ values, decisions, and how they align with their own personal beliefs. More importantly, consumers aren’t only aware— they’re making buying decisions based on how they align ethically with the brands they buy from (or don’t).
In The Business of Aspiration, author and marketing expert, Ana Andjelic deftly navigates the world of conscience-first marketing and company behavior— and shows convincingly why brands need to shift their priorities in order to survive in a more socially conscious world.
At the core of Andjelic’s book is the idea of aspiration. Consumers no longer want their products to simply serve a purpose— they want the things they buy to represent the ideals they aspire to as human beings. They don’t buy clothes from a brand just because they’re fashionable, they want to buy from brands that use ethical production practices or minimize environmental manufacturing impact. Values like these are driving customer behavior now more than ever, and understanding what that means for businesses is an urgent need for brands in every market.
Harnessing Social and Environmental Capital
Andjelic’s central thesis is that when a consumer buys something, their end goal for that purchase has changed from what it used to be. They’re no longer buying a dress, a coffee, or a car. They’re buying social and environmental capital.
Environmental capital is the idea that purchases should reflect personal responsibility for the environment— avoiding animal furs, buying non-GMO food or products grown using sustainable farming practices, etc.
Social capital is about how our purchasing decisions reflect the circles we belong to— who influences us, and how can we align with those influences? This interest in social capital is the reason why influencer marketing has become a massive industry— and a massively effective marketing tactic.
Andjelic harnesses her knowledge of marketing particularly effectively when the book focuses on these areas, and her understanding of and insights into human nature and how it can be used to affect purchasing decisions are astute.
Along the way, Andjelic does an effective job at telling the story of human purchasing behavior without reducing ethical purchasing to a marketing tactic. While she acknowledges that brands who tap into ethical concerns do find greater financial success with modern consumers, Andjelic also uses The Business of Aspiration to highlight the importance of ethical business practices for their own sake.
In the end, The Business of Aspiration may not have much appeal to the average layperson, but it’s practically a must-read for any aspiring marketer (or current marketing expert) looking to get a deeper understanding of why modern consumers buy the things they do.