Belief Systems and Brands: Congratulations, You’re an Individual. Now What?
I’ve just read a piece in the New York Times framed around the premise that the Individual has prevailed over the Corporation when it comes to office dress code. While this may seem mundane and common knowledge, I think it’s an interesting marker of where we are on the journey of individualizing our world. The Corporation used to rule. Corporate brands used to rule. Now the Individual keeps winning. More personal/human brands are growing (and ironically being bought by corporations).
In the same issue, I read an article from David Brooks hypothesizing that Hilary Clinton comes across as too “corporate.” I hadn’t thought of that but it’s most likely a barrier for her likability and relevance in today’s world where the individual seems to be winning. After all, people don’t trust corporations and “trust” seems to be her biggest issue. But let’s not into get into politics even though she’s clearly running against two people who certainly come across much more as the Individual than the Corporation.
The emerging power of the Individual is not news to corporate marketers who have seen this coming for quite some time. Some just don’t really know what to do about it …essentially because they are thinking like a Corporation instead of a human being.
Other corporate marketers are getting what they need to do. I’m seeing some of our clients changing their priorities and sometimes even changing their culture around the notion of trying to understand their “consumer” more deeply and talk to them on a more human-to-human level. What they recognize is that while today’s Individual doesn’t want to be painted with a corporate brush, they are still actively seeking brands that share their beliefs.
Because being an Individual may not be quite as liberating as it’s cracked up to be. As individuals, we try to make sure that no one can label us. We are too complex and interesting for labels. We don’t really trust many other people (and certainly not the Corporation) so we then have to trust ourselves. Well…that’s a lot of pressure actually. More than we’d openly admit if questioned directly about it. But it’s there.
What we do as humans is look for others that share our beliefs. What’s most important for today’s Individual is that we feel we’re driving our life — not someone else (and certainly not a Corporation). But we still need to confide, get advice and feel understood by others — particularly brands. We are constantly looking for like-minded brands that get us on a level we can’t explain.
These clients aren’t explicitly using the vocabulary of “belief systems” but that’s what they’re asking us to help them understand. They are becoming a little less focused on benefits and reasons to believe though these are still important elements of their brand architectures. What they are starting to get, though, is that benefits and RTB’s aren’t what create the kind of human, personal connection that people want from brands today…unless those benefits and RTB’s speak to someone’s belief system.
Roughly 7 out of the past 8 insight projects I’ve worked on in the past couple of months have really been about understanding belief systems. We are using the human stories that people tell us about their lives to craft brand stories that fit their belief system. This is exciting work that energizes a brand team and gives it a vision for how to connect with today’s Individual.
The Corporation cannot talk the Individual into liking them with benefits and RTB’s that are not linked to their belief system. Just ask the dress code people. Or Hillary.