We humans as a collective seem to be a hard working lot, generally trying to do the right thing, taking care of our families, contributing to our communities, and along the way producing remarkable art, music, architecture, and technology, but in spite of it all we are lazy in our query. We are inherently selfish in pursuit of the obvious. Maybe it’s the dichotomy of western and eastern philosophy that we of the western perspective are born and bred to be individualistic, maybe we’ve all been convinced by madmen that we are each special, deserving more than our allotted 15 minutes of fame. Whatever the cause the result is a naval gazing and aggrandizing culture that prioritizes self-congratulatory story over the consideration of the greater good. This bleeds over into how we go to market in business as well. In fact, if business were the litmus test of our lazy thinking, branding and marketing are the worst. Steve Jobs and Apple famously enticed us to “think different.” Unfortunately, outside of academia and the sciences, we don’t query, examine, question, or spend time in discourse regarding the fundamental questions of our time. We especially don’t spend time in consideration of how we might serve the greater good.
My work, by its nature, forces me to ask questions. Simply by observing and thinking about what it is I see and learn through my everyday work I've concluded, possibly harshly, that we as a society are erring gravely by overemphasizing the value of celebrating our selves.
Case in point… UConn's Head Women's Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma.
Here's another, maybe more graphic, depiction of self-worshipping above all else.
This behavior isn’t isolated to sport, youth sport, or entertainment. Look at who was elected POTUS and how. It’s fait accompli we are operating at a grand scale now as narcissists, and in fact we hold the most accomplished narcissists in the greatest regard. Winning is not enough. We have to humiliate and degrade our opponents. There’s no longer a shared camaraderie in competition. Simply vanquish. As if there weren’t enough for everyone, we are on a quest to own it all. We live by pirate code, “Take what you can. Give nothing back.”
The practice of defining oneself and celebrating one’s accomplishments is part and parcel what's wrong with brand management in corporate America today. The endless prattle comparing and contrasting features and benefits in order to win advantage is how most CMO’s build their strategies. The tone deafness is overwhelming. It’s all about me. A cultural bias toward narcissism unfettered. Our culture is narcissistic. Our providers of the goods and services we need, require, and desire are narcissistic. And as result so are our “branding” efforts.
Interestingly, because the pendulum has swung so far in this direction, a fortuitous opportunity has presented itself for corporations to lead the way back, back to thinking, and back to thinking about some thing other than self. And, if leadership hesitates just momentarily from the everyday grind of “taking what they can,” and consider who they serve, the opportunity will avail itself.
Here’s where the world is headed. Only 13 companies have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past five years. They've largely done it by turning their attention to the end user. Companies that are winning are doing so racing to the new opportunity serving a constituency based on highly sensitive human behavioral and need markers. Branding, marketing, and product differentiation are largely archaic endeavors in today’s market place. The winners are companies that are building user experiences via deep psychographic understanding, quantitative data, and empathic design.
Branding is dead. The polls got it right this time and the results are streaming in. Brand affinity is waning fast and furiously.
“Brand-building” has become less and less relevant because consumers have gained more and more access to services that are constructed specifically to facilitate their needs. Consumers are filtering their preferences based on user experience. Google, Amazon, Trip Advisor, Lyft, are re-defining what consumers expect from their services by designing highly refined use experiences. Brand builders are too self-referenced to recognize they have to tune deeply into their consumer's cognitive processes in order to provide for them an optimum experience. I’m not talking about widgets, bells, or whistles. I’m talking about understanding the user experience that ultimately serves them according to their unique aspirations. Not yours! To succeed in the future, brands must behave selflessly. Anticipating the pendulum is about to swing back in a severe way in terms of selling practices, service and product providers must adopt the newly emerging disciplines of service design and relationship development, along with the ageless and selfless act of service.
Think about it.