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Linguistics Posts

The Brand and the Customer: Evolving Together and Creating a Unique Story

The self is the continuation of the brand. When we consume a brand we continue the story of the brand in our own lives, as a kind of ambassador. A wise brand will allow the customer to become part of the brand.

There are numerous benefits to such a strategy. Perhaps most importantly this allows for a brand’s unique evolution over time and space at the pace of the customer. All products, people, companies, governments, et al change. A well positioned brand will move with a customer, not the other way around.

Both a product and it’s customer are defined by each other. Today I sat in a coffee shop with twenty others, nearly everyone on a Macbook. Each user fit the profile of the computer, as each computer fit the profile of the user. You could see plainly how a brand is an extension of the user, much as the user is an extension of the brand.

Today we can each create our own brand online. We have social media that will freely advertise us being our very best. We can choose to show off only the best selfies, meals, or travel spots. We create our image and show this to the world. Like PR agencies we police our self image and only allow the best to be shown.

And the world, like us, knows that this is utterly insincere. As we each perform this action we are reminded that others are doing the same. Corporations do the same. Brands also do the same.

But if everyone is doing this, what should then be the reaction of the thoughtful brand? Some might pursue further flash and pomp. Some might try to yell louder or extend their customer base. But perhaps it is wise to consider the opposite.

What would sincerity and transparency look like in a brand? What if brands admitted weakness and limitation? What if through social media brands encouraged people to show their dark side, their weakness, their mistakes?

There is a wonderful trend in marketing that is gaining considerable strength. Storytelling is replacing older models of advertising and usurping in a new era of messaging. This important trend is shaping a new generation of marketing materials.

It will always be a struggle to measure the performance of such marketing using existing metrics. The emotional impact  of building connections between customers and brands is not easily quantifiable.

Sure, we can measure the number of tweets or percentage of return customers. And these are important. But just like how it is nearly or completely impossible to judge the level of caring one person has for another based on gifts or time spent, it is equally difficult to equate the same level of connection between a customer and a brand through the actions they take.

Though challenging to develop and measure, the impact of these emotional connections will far out last any short term campaign. A customer who writes a product or service into his or her life will not soon forget or move on. They will tell the story that they lived.

I believe companies should begin to listen as much to the qualitative as they do the quantitative as the impact of each story on the emotions of both the user and the observers can not be converted to an easy number.

Just like we are each not a number but a rich and complex personality built from experiences and continually changing, the product consumer should be recognized and understood for being the same.

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Camera Lucida

Alfred Stieglitz Photographing on a Bridge

Alfred Stieglitz Photographing on a Bridge

 “When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not (i)emerge(i), do not (i)leave(i): they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.”

― Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

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The Love of Language

“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” –Roland Barthes

One:
Language is an almost magical system of communication. Imagine an early civilization transmitting a message between two individuals hundreds of miles apart. One carves cuneiform symbols with a reed onto a small, thin brick of wet clay and dries it under the sun. A porter on horseback carriers the brick to its destination and hands it to the receiver, who stares at the brink, translating the written symbols to audible symbols, conveying a meaning to those listening.

This would seem a miracle to the uninitiated, illiterate members of the audience. It is like the cartoon where a shipwrecked anthropomorphic animals speaks into a jar, closes it, and throws it into the water to be heard upon opening wherever the jar happens to find its way.

Cultures on multiple continents have viewed their language and even alphabet characters as holy. An alphabet was often viewed as being handed down by God. Written language was divinely inspired.

The spoken language carried a similar weight. Ancient Jews would not speak the name of their God. To utter the collection of sounds that made up that name was taboo.

We speak with purpose to convey a meaning to another. We tell a story, express emotion, attempt to create desire or anger in a recipient, relieve withheld anger, or ask for an answer.

In every situation we use language we communicate multiple meanings – what we might call  layers or levels. It is not that we simply make a statement. We use words to connect what we have understood in our heads to what is understood in the recipient. Words are the force between two magnets, either pulling or pushing sender and receiver towards or away.

Two:
In a meeting I utter the sound “uh” after being asked a question. The sound has an intention. It is a placeholder. The sound is subtle and carries on for two full seconds. Any longer and it would have garnered attention and seemed unique, unusual.

Silence would have allowed for others to take my place in response. I use this sound as a place holder in a social queue. It is a word but not a word: I use it to convey my consideration for the question. If I had stated “please hold while I formulate a response” my language would have seemed forced, robotic. If I had remained silent and simply looked at the asker, I would have again delivered a message.

Three:
I may disconnect my language from my emotion to preserve a relationship or continue on with an objective. I am asked to do something I wish not to do. I reply an enthusiastic “yes” before pausing for a moment and replying “ok” and nod my head twice. It is the follow up that conveys my lack of assurance.

I answer twice.

My emotion is expressed and withheld. It is not a false response as I wish to convey my willingness as well as convey my lack of personal interest. There is an “I” as well as an “I am”. I want but I am also I am wanting ________________.

With language I may express a range and variety of opinions and mix my meanings to convey the complexity of human emotion. It is not the 1 0 of binary language. We are a strange loop.

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Name the Colors, Blind the Eye [, a] Zen Dialectic

One:
The title is, I’m told, an old Zen saying. In looking at the specifics of a situation, in labeling the elements of an experiences, we are limiting our understanding rather than deepening our awareness. In looking for the specifics or meaning we are keeping ourselves from really seeing.

This is a concept clearly applicable to nearly every situation in life. When we define an idea or a person we have already limited our perception of what is really before us.

The antithesis of this argument is the old adage, “if it quacks like a duck.” My iPhone has the ability to quack. Is it in fact a duck? Perhaps in a former life.

Labeling is a very helpful ability in evolutionary terms. If something looks like a snake we assume it is a snake and know to stay away.

I think to be slow to judge is in fact quite a value. To really understand someone we have to listen and focus on the message transmitted rather than our intuitive desire to just assume.  We have to be willing to shrug off biases and see the individual for who they are.

Unhappiness is always an option. It is easy to create associations between the aspects of life and create a narrative in which we in fact are the poor, sad benefactor of life’s cruel misery. This is, however, not the reality of the situation.

We are a part of the whole. What is misery for us might in fact be a tremendous improvement for another. Life is chance and we roll the dice every morning. We play well or we simply hope the next morning will bring a new configuration.

Two:
But is it up to us to decide our fate in a situation? What about the time when things are truly terrible? If someone in a ski mask is holding a gun to our head are we to ignore the objects on display and try not to assume that we are being mugged? When is it beneficial to make judgments and when is it systemic of a deficiency? Should we always assume the best in people in situations?

We cannot say for sure how a situation will turn out in the end. We pay attention to the colors so we can survive what life throws at us. We are born to survive and reproduce. We are happy when our needs (both natural and assumed) are met. We are not happy when we lack or experience loss.

Three:
The meaning is what is found by looking at the meaning. We create meaning from our judgments. It is in looking at this statement and considering its “truthiness” that gives me the ability to create meaning from its parts. I might say, “Yes, I understand this statement to mean … as being a figurative analogy regarding the way I should live my life.” But in this I am giving weight or purpose to the color of nuance.

I have to realize that the logical must give way in moments to the understandings that are not definable or describable. If I assume a logical understanding of not the statement but rather the intuitive awareness that is created through its reading, I am missing the true intuition that is available as its purpose. I must cease to define the object, even the meaning as an object, to create space for the purpose of the statement.

I picture a simple example: a man, dressed like a thug serving food to the homeless and crying while watching chick flicks. The image conveys meaning. But in this I have created meaning around the simplicity of the meaning. The man might in fact steal food from the soup kitchen out of spite. But I cannot know this. I have to experience the moment and gauge that the situation might not in fact be what it seems – in both the good and the bad. In this sense it is through the reduction of meaning that the meaning becomes clear: it is the moment that matters, not our interpretation.

Only in defining the experience can I know my relationship to the meaning. I am the one who defines the colors and the color of the statement. I am the one who finds meaning in the statement. I define the statement and loose the meaning in phrasing a sentence about its purpose and understanding. It is the individual who is creating, not the creation itself.

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