Branding in a New Age of Self Reflection

The recent partnership between Getty Images and LeanIn.org, a women’s empowerment non-profit, to create a library of stock images devoted to powerful depiction of women, girls and those who support them, had us doing a whopdewoop! in the office. The days suddenly became punctuated with shining enthusiasm. This progressive decision taken by a frequently used design resource meant we could carry it forward and influence work that represented our clients in the healthcare industry. How amazing it felt to be able to tap into a resource that was already devoted to inclusive representation of human life.

All this excitement took me back to a TED Talk by Thandie Newton, an actor active in non-profit work across the African Continent. Her 2011 Ted talk on embracing otherness to find herself refers to Carl Jung’s work on ego and the concept of Self. Born to a Zimbabwean mother and a British father, she describes her journey of repeatedly having to form new interfaces to be accepted and included in her immediate social environment, and how that led her to find her true center.

A Jungian archetype, The Self ^1 is signified by the unification of the consciousness and unconsciousness in a person, and representing the psyche as a whole. According to Jung, the Self is realized through the process of individuation, a method he describes to be that of integrating one’s personality.

Jung considered that at birth each individual has an original sense of wholeness of the Self. A state in which the child harmonizes with all that he sees and recognizes himself to be a united part of the whole. However, with development a separate ego-consciousness crystallizes out of that original feeling of unity ^2. In the first half of someone’s life the ego is successfully achieved and the individual is securely anchored in the external world. Then a new task arises for the second half of life. The return to Self. Jung describes this as a coming-to-term with one’s own inner center or psychic nucleus. A process that generally begins with the wounding of the external manifestation of one’s ego-consciousness, also known as personality. ^3

One can say that a similar evolution is now taking place in the world of brand communication. Businesses are now being forced to introspect and return to their own psychic nucleus. ^4

When a business is born, it is much like a baby. Born with the idea of a unified whole, an idea of how it too can be thoroughly involved in an industry and offer a product, service or experience for consumption. Then through the process of branding it separates itself. Anchoring itself in the external world.

A brand’s identity is perceived through four verticals: ^5

its products and services,
its communications,
its buildings and environments, and
its people and behavior.

    Up until recently, when digital and social media were non-existent, brand identities were built around the first two verticals. Relying heavily on traditional methods and media, to create an interface and differentiation. But, with the birth of digital and social media platforms, the other two verticals have become as important, if not more, in the process of identifying and positioning a brand.

    Businesses are no longer confined to brick and mortar environments; rather they use digital real estate such as websites and online applications to house their brand narratives. The most important vertical though has emerged to be the one of people and behavior. Both the brand’s people and its behavior now occupy the forefront of every interface. Constantly engaging an extremely clued in audience that is prompt to give its feedback and potentially wound the brand ego.

    Bryan Kramer, CEO of Pure Matter, writes about how the line between BtoB and BtoC communications is so blurred that the marketing community is rapidly evolving to adopt a new paradigm, described simply as Human to Human.

    He says quite logically, that businesses do not have emotion, people do and people want to be a part of something larger than themselves. That people want to feel something and people want to understand, and be understood.

    Since a brand is designed to create a personality for a business, the business must also behave as a person. It is not enough then, to only remain accessible to the audience but to take a step further and embrace the audience. Embrace the ‘other’ to stay constantly aligned to its own core.

    An example of this paradigm in action was seen in the 2014 Super Bowl commercial for Coca-Cola. This brand through its television commercial embraced a diverse humanity. But then it went further and did so on the behalf of an entire nation. CocaCola managed to include an entire country while also standing by it, recognizing it as its own entity. The ad reminded anybody watching that modern America was built on values of inclusion and solidarity for the other.

    The resultant feedback online was interesting to follow. The Internet suddenly became a buzz with backlash for the ad, all emerging from a segment of the audience that wished to remain exclusive. The interesting thing to note however was that this backlash received an even bigger backlash from those who harmonized with the message of inclusion. May we then say that Coca Cola was attempting to return to its own psychic nucleus? And also urging the nation to do the same?

    These decisions of inclusion by Coca-Cola, Getty Images and most recently Facebook (they just launched an option of a custom gender for user profiles) has created a definitive answer for the way forward for brand communications across industries. One based on inclusion and dignity of human life.

    The fastest way to encourage a vision is to show that it’s possible. To lead by example. How many times was a pitch won, based solely on a verbal iteration of an idea?

    Getty Images, Coca-Cola and Facebook are all pioneering examples of behavior led brand communications and they all show the possibilities of the way forward.

    The global communication industry today has a deep responsibility to drive this change. To help brands embrace their audience in the most authentic manner, and creating a dignified and sustainable human experience by enabling businesses to remain true to their psychic center.

    References:

      1 “Myths-Dreams-Symbols-The Self.” Myths-Dreams-Symbols-The Self. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
      2 Henderson, J.L “Ancient Myths and Modern Man” in C. G. Jung ed., Man and his Symbols (London 1978) p. 118
      3 Von Franz, M.L. “The Process of Individuation” in C. G. Jung ed., Man and his Symbols (London 1978) p. 166
      4 Von Franz, M.L. “The Process of Individuation” in C. G. Jung ed., Man and his Symbols (London 1978) p. 166
      5 Allens, T. and Simmons, J. “Visual and Verbal Identity” in Clifton, R John Simmons, & Sameena Ahmad Wiley Brands and Branding. (UK 2004) p.116
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