Does next-generation marketing come with a religion?

Whether you took a marketing course 20 years ago or are just about to graduate in marketing or any related field, you must have encountered the notion of the 4 Ps (i.e., product, place, price and promotion) in one of your textbooks. The concept’s founder Philip Kotler can be considered as the father of modern marketing. And although his thinking is often challenged in these post-modern times, Kotlerian thinking still lies at the basis of many brand strategies and is applied frequently in today’s marketing plans. Yet in recent years, some new frameworks have gained momentum, which we grouped in three schools of thought or Brand Religions, as InSites Consulting likes to call them:

  • Penetration Religion – inspired by the work of Byron Sharp, this religion dethrones some of the most popular Kotlerian marketing principles (such as the concept of customer loyalty). It emphasizes the importance of penetration through customer acquisition by building physical and mental availability.
  • Influencer Religion – this branding framework is all about marketing through people rather than to people, by creating a ripple effect and leveraging the power of conversations.
  • Relationship Religion – marketing efforts in this thinking focus on building an emotional bond and a long-term relationship with consumers.

Each of these religions provides a framework on how to grow your brand and connect with your consumer. While some of these religions preach brand love, others reject the concept of loyalty. There is no one framework fits all, which is proven by the diffusion of successful brands throughout all three religions (or even four if you include the Kotlerian Classic Religion). But what about branding and marketing to the youngest generations? Does brand love (and loyalty) (still) exist amongst today’s youth?

Generation Z as well as their Millennial counterparts are a key audience for many brands. It is a financially wealthy generation, which, besides spending its own resources, has a major decision in what is purchased within the household.

When thinking of youth marketing, the notion of influencer marketing interchangeably comes to mind. Should brands follow an Influencer Religion strategy to appeal to the next generations? We asked 26 senior marketing executives for their view on marketing and branding towards the youngest generation.

Heart with arrows

Polygamous Love

Today’s youth grew up in a world of over-choice and endless possibilities. This abundance of everything has triggered their curiosity and fueled the development of so-called micro-interests (one of the concepts of our frAGILE bookzine as discussed in our interview with Audible), also when it comes to the use of brands. Unlike the previous generations which would cling to the same brand(s) since their childhood to express themselves, this generation has a more multidimensional relationship with brands. They look for brands that can help craft their unique selves. Brands are still used to crafting their brand identity, but not by means of one single brand – their identity is multi-layered and as such so is their brand consumption. However, being volatile by nature, their use and love for brands can change from one moment to another. Or as Julia Michaels puts it in her song Issues: “I could love you just like that and I could leave you just this fast”.

One could argue that the notion of brand love and (as such also) loyalty has shifted. The next generations still feel the love for certain brands, although this love is not exclusive and by definition lasting. There is no one true love, and brands need to work hard to keep the spark alive and the love in place.

Marketers agree that brand loyalty has changed, that it has been redefined. Although this generation is constantly on the move, also when it comes to the use of brands, today’s youth still shares certain feelings for certain brands. Loyalty still exists, yet it is more fragile. It is a constantly changing concept, with loyalty in its pure form being hard to reach. One could say that the notion of polygamous loyalty as defined by Byron Sharp is more valid amongst the youngest generations, as they switch around between rival brands according to their needs and relevant occasions.


YouTube video cartoon people online meeting


The connected generation grew up in a world of advertising clutter. With approximately 40,000 brand impressions reaching them daily, they have installed natural ‘blinds’ to cope with this ad overdose. They can see through a commercial agenda. To connect with them, brands need to reveal their true selves, their realness. In this quest for authentic messages, brands have found their way to influencer marketing. Influencers are the new reality stars; their success lies in their roots, with many of them having started their story in a fragile way, broadcasting their real selves through their computer webcam. Although kids and teens are aware of the often-commercial layer behind these life-casters, these influencers are becoming brand marks themselves.

People are the new brands, and this is also demonstrated by the power of vloggers and social influencers. Influencer marketing allows to connect with today’s youth, yet one can find successful next-generation brands throughout all the brand religion frameworks. Regardless of your brand religion, influencers are key and should be seen as just another important channel in the marketing mix. Influencers are the new media, whether you are a believer of mass marketing or not, and regardless of whether you are focusing on penetration, building an emotional band with consumers, strengthening distinctive assets, or leveraging the power of word-of-mouth.

There isn’t a holy-grail framework when it comes to marketing to the next generations; the truth lies in all beliefs and visions. Brands need to understand who they are as a brand and pursue a religion that matches their brand strategy.

Eager for more? Get your free download of the Brand Religion bookzine and/or the frAGILE: Is NextGen marketing more chemistry than science bookzine. Or replay the full webinar.

Want to explore how your brand can connect with this woke consumer? Download our Gen Z report now or book a workshop with our resident expert Joeri van den Bergh!

Brand Religions bookzine by InSites Consulting

Brand Religions

Simplifying the world of marketing, grouping the most popular books, frameworks and beliefs in different schools of thoughts or ‘brand religions’. So what is your brand religion and are you measuring brand success the right way?

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