7. Brands, Beliefs and the Meaning of Life.


1. Brands, beliefs, and the Meaning of Life.


Brands have become so intrinsic to society that few of us realise how big a part they play in our lives and our collective and individual identities.

(Below: I can’t think of better evidence that you’ve had an impact on the public – My ‘Keep Walking’ campaign for Johnnie Walker Whisky.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 23.00.29 The scope is broad. It encompasses so much of which we are already a part it is very hard to spot the wood for the trees. It extends far beyond the limits of what we term ‘brands’. So to really get to the bottom of this pervasive subject we must start right at the very beginning, with an entirely blank page. In fact, let’s just start at the beginning of everything, with a blank universe. The void. No up or down. No near or far. Just blackness. Though for our purposes, it could as easily be whiteness. The same lack of distinction would apply – which is the point. So if you will, imagine a white room of whiteness – where everything in it is, well white. There would be no definable context by which to distinguish anything at all – which would mean a lack of meaning until…

Black Dot

A black dot appears in the room and everything changes. 

What has appeared along with that black dot is context. Anything in the space would now have a relative point of view. A sense of perspective concerning distance and size relative to this one black dot. And so it is with everything in our relative universe. We draw our distinctions relative to everything else. This applies not merely to considerations of the dynamics of time and space but for every imaginable concept and condition.

This is one of our most basic questions we contemplate as a self conscious species. Where do we fit in?

As new born babies we draw no distinction between ourselves and the world around us.

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When we cry the world cries too – then mother comes and comforts us.  Yet soon we notice that when we cry, sometimes Mother does not come to comfort us. Or at least not right away. A new realisation dawns upon us.   We are not the world.  We are somehow separate. That terrifying notion of separation heralds a life long process of defining and distinguishing one aspect of existence from another. Our likes and dislikes. Our fears and desires. This subject is vastly complex, yet suffice to say, what we are talkng about is our congenital search for meaning. Early on questions arise like, whether or not something of a particular colour and shape is good to eat. But in time they will encompasses every imaginable aspect of human self-definition. As we grow and interact with the world we draw conclusions about our individual experiences that then  become the templates for facing everything else to come – either literally, with experiences that repeat, or metaphorically, in order to have some reponse to new stuff – things we have not yet faced. All these individual chunks build into the basis for a belief system that defines us a distinct individuals. Broadly speaking these fall into two groups of needs.

THE FIRST: serves our basic requirements of physiologogy, and sociability (food, shelter, clothing, bodily functions, physical intimacy, family & friendship).

THE SECOND: serves our higher needs in support of psychological health and wellbeing, (love and belonging, self esteem, problem solving, spontaneity, creativity, morality, acceptance of facts and our place in society).

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This subject has been explored in detail by renowned  American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, in his now widely recognised system of classifying human requirements known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, fully explored in his book “Motivation and Personality’, published in the fifties. His theory claimed that psychological health is predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization.

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Around the same time, respected Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist, Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D., was publishing his works based on his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, which led him to the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus, a reason to continue living. His findings formed the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy after Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology. Frankl presented his discoveries under the title, logotherapy. You’ll of course notice the constituent word ‘logo, which we all associate with business and brands – but really Viktor’s used it was to signify ‘meaning’ (one of the interpretations of the original greek word, logos). And logotherapy is not to be confused with shopping therapy – which is, conversely. not recognised by the Viennese school of psychology – or any other I know of. (May be there’s one in Essex?) No, Frankl’s concept of Logotherapy is based on the premise that finding meaning in life a key driving force. Or more specifically, our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life. The point is, the search for meaning has been established as one of our primary driving forces by scientific enquiry – and there’s been plenty of support for the idea. So in summary, given we are driven by certain basic physical requirements, (a fact verifiable by each and everyone of us) and once those are met (so claimed in Maslow’s hierarchy) we concentrate on the second group of driving forces, concered with self-definition and self expression – the search for meaning in our lives as described by Fankl. So back to how this all relates to brands.

The crux is this: these two key areas of motivation are directly reflected in why we buy products and ‘buy into’ brands, respectively. 

THE FIRST (BASIC CONSIDERATION): WHAT A PRODUCT (OR SERVICE) DOES to fulfil a PHYSICAL NEED. This is really not the key motivational group for purchase consideration – more a tick box of entry level requirements. Though important, the real clinchers come in the next section.

THE SECOND: (HIGHER CONSIDERATION)  The TRAITS and VALUES represented by THE WAY A PRODUCT OR SERVICE DOES WHAT IT DOES.  Now I know the more technically driven among us will be saying, “Now just you hang on there a moment Mr Brand Bloke, if a product doesn’t do what I want it to do and do it damn well I won’t be buying that product, no matter how cool and groovy I think it is”.  And you’re right of course. But these days there is a general expectation that products do what they’re supposed to a well or they won’t be in business for very long. People may be fooled once, but that’s it. If you don’t perform in these competitive times you simply don’t survive. So let’s dispense with this right away. And also anything truly innovative to the extent that it is an entirely new way of doing things. If you have that you have the market all to yourself (for a few months at least until you’re copied up the wazoo. So now we’re back to 99% of all products in all markets (of similar price bracket), what you offer is pretty much what is on offer from the rest of the market – so how do you differentitate your brand? With the way you do things. And what that represents.

To recap. We can all agree on the need for the basics – we are human, we have certain needs. Where things get interesting is the manner in which those needs are met. As brand creators and brand advocate this is our chance to express pur individuality (a key driving motivation of life).

So that’s why it’s so important, as brand guardians, to at very least be aware of what our brand represents – as that is what customers are ‘buying into’ to represent them – in equal (if not greater) proportion to what they a buying the product to do for them.  Now might be a good time to take a quick look at what we mean by ‘needs’ in these modern times of indulgence, convenience and labour saving devices. It is perfectly normal to hear people say, “Boy, I need a coffee”. Or to just as easily trip of the tongue’ “I really need a car like that.”  “I need those shoes”. “I need something new to wear or I can’t possibly go out tonight”. Of course we don’t need any of those things, but our language and therefore our internal processing, our metaphors and motivations in life have promoted our ‘desires or wants’ up “For me its a Merc or nothing”. I feel naked without my Rolex. Really? Have we turned in to the most shallow race of people who have ever lived? Hmm, the jury’s out on that one. What is clear is that there’s something deeper going on than the physical need for coffee, or transport or telling the time. These things are tied in to our self image – our perceptions of our status and identity. It’s all part of expressing who we are and where we fit in – as explained far more eloquently by Maslow and Frankl. What’s clear for Brands is they better know where they fit in.

The good news and best advice is the same for brands as it is for people. 

“To thine own self be true.”

Upside down bird

Embrace your idiosyncrasies and quirks – the things that set you apart.

We are drawn to those who are comfortable in themselves – to authenticity and honesty and self confidence. What’s more we are far more likely to enter into a relationship (business or otherwise) with those who extol values we can believe in. With depth to their idividuality – or for brands – to their differentiation. Perhaps even more important, this leads the way for us to be cofident in being comfortable with ourselves. Not a bad value to represent in itself. So what does all that representing good stuff actually do? It generates a feeling of goodwill toward your brand. Which is the life blood of good relations – let alone good business.

Goodwill feet

I hope you the insights and information will help you build better brands, tell their story in a more engaging manner, and in the process generates greater goodwill.

If you would like help you with you brand communications please drop me a line at james@thbrandlodge.co.uk. 


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