The Importance of a Vision

Demonstrators engaged in a pitched battle with police. Riot gear, batons, water cannons, horses on one side; petrol bombs, stones and chants on the other. The media delivers the pictures daily. What is it all about?

Austerity.

This is a curious matter. Let’s take Greece for example: tax evasion has apparently been a national sport. The cash-strapped government kept spending and simply increased public debt. When Greece joined the euro-zone it got easier to borrow money and unaffordable public spending continued.

The EU has handed over tens of billions of Euros to the Greek government to allow it to keep going. Germany has in fact contributed a significant share. And now the people are in the streets, thanking the Germans by suggesting they are suppressors and making direct connections with Germany’s not very flattering distant past. It’s a bit like helping out a mate who is constantly in debt with some money and then being accused of being a dominant bastard when suggesting he reigns in his spending.

But the Greeks are not bad people. I have met many Greeks, here and in their home country. They are hospitable, generous, helpful, social, pleasant. Nor are these street battles solely a Greek affair – they take place in a multitude of places across Europe.

What happened after the Second World War when many Europeans were hungry, had no healthcare, social network, jobs or shelter? They did not protest – they got on with rebuilding their respective countries and cities.

The big difference between now and then is today’s lack of vision. Politicians talk about making sure the European Union ‘survives’, assure the voters that it is necessary to be austere to continue to fund expenses, that sacrifices have to be made to ensure that defaults can be avoided, and so forth.

Nobody presents a vision of a better future. The people, already suffering from high unemployment and devastated to seeing their anticipated future disappear without notice, are asked to put up with more cut-backs and sacrifices to make sure a union between countries survives. But nobody is presenting a vibrant picture of a better life this European Union is supposed to bring. There is no vision of a better future, no leaders who have put their hand up and committed to leading Europeans towards this future – in fact, for all these people in the street know, there is no future.

Let me say at this point that I am a 100% supporter of the EU idea. I won’t go into the many benefits a working EU would bring its people. But I am dismayed about the lack of vision, the lack of statesmanship (Mario Monti and Andrea Merkel have potential, but they are not stepping up to the plate, being side-tracked by dealing with opposition parties and election issues…), the pork-barreling, the lack of public education.

But, hold on: lack of vision, lack of statesmanship, pork-barreling, lack of public education. This reminds me also of Australia, my chosen home country. And, not surprisingly, consumer confidence is low here, despite having escaped the Global Financial Crisis – not due to brilliant planning, but due to the growth of China that has driven demand for iron ore and coal to new heights. The lucky country indeed.

Yet we know that it is a vision of a desirable future that makes people accept hardships, leads them to deliver more than their fair share, support others, and gets them to change from asking ‘What’s in it for me?’ to rather ask ‘What else can I do?’

We know that dopamine drives us to achieve more and better. We know that a vivid vision allows us to experience the emotional benefits a better future would deliver (think of sport psychology and visualization). We know that goals are typically nonconscious and can be primed by such a vision.

Any experienced marketer knows how important a brand vision is and how important it is to present this brand vision in a credible and vivid way. Consumers who want to be part of the vision will become not only brand loyal but advocates. They will spend their limited money, time and energy with the brand. They will provide feedback and support causes the brand champions.

Sure, there is a big difference between a brand and accepting austerity measures to rebuild one’s country. But we make the most important, long-term decisions on the basis of our vision of the future we would gain – from marriage and having children to where we live, career goals, major investments, who we associate with. Show me one person who has made a decision on these and other major commitments on the basis of rational factors and within a ‘here and now’ framework.

Maybe marketers should be running the EU. It could only get better….