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Philosophy 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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The Past is Not What it Seems; or, You Can’t Go Back Again

The mid-90′s relaunch of the The Outer Limits had some interesting moments. Among the best, if I might be so bold, was an episode that took place entirely in a one room prison cell on an alien spaceship. The two main characters were human soldiers being held captive by an otherworldly enemy, the two species deep in the throes of a very long and costly war.

At some point the beautiful female character began showing signs that she was turning into one of the aliens, a reptilian species, through some kind of genetic therapy they were forcing on her. As she and the male captive had grown close he began to feel her despair as the therapy converted more and more of her features into a monstrosity. At the brink of an emotional breakdown, and fearing the worst for humans as a species, the male captive told her of a secret human force located on a distant moon that was ready to attack, turning the tide on a war that would otherwise mean ultimate destruction. Expecting relief he was stunned when she stood up and began to casually walk to the exit, knocking for the captors to release her, which they did. He asked what she was doing, these were our enemy. He told her they were trying to change her into something she wasn’t! She replied simply that they weren’t changing her but changing her back. All along she was the enemy and the war would surely be lost.

The idea of the beautiful, comfortable thing being turned into the monster is traumatic. But what is worse is that the thing was the monster all along. What was horrible was really horrible to begin with.

There have been a few moments (or really many) in my life in which a situation changed drastically for me and the others involved. Almost without warning a calm, pleasantly simple scenario was turned on its head and became something uncomfortable and different. And what is often spoken during these times was a call  to revert back to what was once just standard operating procedure. Two significant trends in the US today point to this reality: segments within Evangelical Christianity are a push back to 5-point Calvinism (called Neocalvinism) and Tea Party candidates are continually espousing a return to what is seen as the Founding principles. In both of these movements the past is revered as containing the recipe for real success and modernity the ailment. If only we could get back to the _______ none of this would be happening.

This is a dangerous and flawed ideology. Not only is this reversion impossible to begin with and worsens the situation by allowing members to revise a past and only remember the best parts, the criteria, the scenario in which the belief or situation existed is completely different. There is no going back as even the idea of going back intentionally is wholly different than the situation in which the original idea first existed.

To look back at a “better time” is truly revisionist history at best. Only the best parts are remembered. And worse, the context is only provided for the past scenario. What ever it is we face today could end up very positively for everyone or even a mixed bag result. But its also important to consider that the good times that once were might in fact have been the thing that precipitated the problems today.

Truly, the monstrosity might have always been there.

The reality is that the scenario is always changing. Time is moving forward, people are changing, culture is on the move, and every relationship in our life is being altered continually. The goal should never be to go back but to charge on forward. Accept the inevitability of change and eradicate the fallacy that a relationship, ideology, belief, or whatever once stood still for any period of time. There is one constant in the universe and that is change. In biology we call it evolution, which is just a loaded term for the propensity of all objects to shift and change into other forms. We must, like our world, evolve to accept such an inevitability.

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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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