What the heck is going on here?

I was visiting some young friends in my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, enjoying a lovely summer evening with steaming food and cold refreshments. When I visited their bathroom, I noticed something surprising. This household had a stack of soap from a small, local company that included tantalizing varieties like Honey & Oatmeal and Cucumber & Grit. There was even a marijuana-infused soap. (I would have named this “Dope Soap” … but nobody asked me.)

Handcrafted soap is not a cheap or random purchase. Some of these bars are selling for ten times the cost of a bar of Ivory soap.

I was intrigued. Why would this young married couple on a budget be turning their backs on famous brands and products that had been built by some of the world’s greatest companies?

So, I asked my young host. “Ivory soap has been marketing to you for your entire life. Why did you buy this local soap instead of Ivory, or Dial, or Dove? Why do you love this brand?

She thought for a moment and said, “I’m not sure I would say I love this brand. But I love the hands that made it.”

In this simple statement, she articulated such a profound idea and a source of the cataclysmic shift focusing us to rethink what it means to be a business, a brand, and a marketer today.

She went on to tell the story of this local soap company and its founders:

“I’ve met the owners, and they’re awesome people,” she said. “They make a product with a purpose. They’re committed to building a healthy and sustainable business in our hometown. They care for the environment, and they’re using natural, locally sourced ingredients. They want to build a business based on integrity, and they treat their employees really well. I know that because I’ve met them, too. That’s important to me. They’re involved in our community, and I see them at our local Make Movement events. The soap company owners want to make this a nicer place to live, like I do. These are people I can believe in, and I want to support them, no matter what they sell, really.”

I asked her if she had ever seen an ad for this soap.

“No. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was an ad for anything.”

I think if you told this story to a Proctor & Gamble marketer from 1970, she would think  you just fell out of the sky. My young friend is saying that advertising doesn’t matter to her. In fact, she’s immune to it. She paid ten times the price of a bar of Ivory soap because she believed in the vision of the founder. To her, that’s more meaningful than the soap’s price, product, placement, or promotion – the classic “Four P’s” of marketing. What the heck is going on here?

– from “Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins” by Mark Schaefer