The Marketeer: Self Identity

Branding- and as a part of a story, Genuine Economy, and Consuming Purposefully.

Historical ways of understanding self

Know thy self. The words written in stone at the oracle of delphi in Greece, stood as the epicenter of greek culture and philosophy. The words have been at the center of the question of human existence, and is a rhetorical question, gnawing at the back of the mind of every person in history. Who am I? why am I here? These questions and the answers, make up the core of identity, and give us security, identify our communities, and give us a reason to get up in the morning.

Millennials live in a world that makes identity a much more complex question to answer than ever before. This has caused on some levels a crisis and in other levels a new genesis with regard to answering these basic questions about our existence. Whether we know it or not, we ask it every day.

Freud offered the perspective that we are locked in a constant tug of war between the id, ego and superego. The id, being the the body, ego, the conscious self, and the superego being external forces that try to shape you, be that society, god, friends, media etc.

Philosophers have struggled with the dichotomy of the true self (the inner self) vest the false self, which what we portray to other people. It can be argued alternatively that the digital self is nothing more than an augmented version of the false self. However contrary to philosophical perspectives of the past, it might be offered that the “false self” as augmented by the digital world is actually one of the strongest tools for recurring discovery of one’s’ true self.

All inner identities are always in flux

Whether we like it or not our identities are always in flux, even before we introduce technology into the picture. Theories about the natural state of humans have largely always broken down into two camps, the first being the blank slate theory, which believes that we are nothing but the sum of our experiences. The second theory is that we have human nature, and personal natures that are inherited genetically by either being human or descended from certain temperaments. This is the argument of nature versus nurture. The common consensus typically is that we are in fact both.

The one factor that changes the most is that of our experiences, or the side of us that is shaped by our experiences. Traditionally humans had limited experiences, that were confined to their towns, their jobs, their families and how much they traveled or were educated by traditional means. At the dawn of the broadcast age, we had access to a much broader range of experiences that but still, it was limited to major distributors like the main broadcast networks, which were playing the same programs, and didn’t allow for much diversity. In a large part it homogenized the radio and TV generations who lived from the 20s until the early 90s.

These shared experiences of media, created a relatively homogenized macro society, where “American” identity implanted largely through the media, as well as the national experiences of war and politics.

Since the ‘90s experience has fragmented as mass media consumption plummets and is replaced by the customized and ever evolving experiences we create for ourselves through social networks, the customized information we choose to take in.

Not only is the diversity creating a great diversity of experiences but two additional factors have served to make identity formation far different than past generations. Namely the pure amount of experiences and knowledge we can absorb, as well as our ability to interact and contribute to it. Those two things have made our very understanding of identity as a field of study as well as our own understanding of identity radically different from any previous generation on earth.

The Millennial model for identity creation is, like all previous generations, a cycle of inputs of experiences and influences into a person’s mind through the senses. It is then filtered and translated by preprogrammed dispositions, existing knowledge and and conditioned responses, the combination of these we might call the person’s’ character. (note it is important to understand that a person’s character is also both conditioned by experience of people’s reactions to their responses, as well as conscious choices), Finally once filtered through the character of the person the individual then outputs a response to respond, interact or celebration (but often ignoring) the inputs. Traditionally, this was a lengthy process that took years. In childhood development is is normally carefully monitored and crafted over years by parents and teachers.

The first crisis of identity is that we now have a firehose of on-demand experiences of every kind, with little guidance on the sources of the input, the credibility or legitimacy therein. The resulting character and output while it has the potential to be able to understand, sort and categorize, and intelligently output, is more than likely to often cause clutter and confusion in the mind, and result in largely ignoring the majority of inputs. This is how and why we can have access to so much information, but few people actually learn and retain the information available to them in a coherent way. While this is not bad, it is the direct explanation as to why despite the massive amount of new information hasn’t automatically produced better and more intelligent individuals, but rather created a more chaotic idea of self, that is in greater flux than ever.

The way this looks for a Millennial

For the working and consuming Millennial (ie: not in school), typically they spend about 6 hours online every day, they are constantly connected with friends over social media, phone apps, or are actually going out, and they are pursuing unique experiences that are typically organized and suggested via the medium of the internet. Of course each person’s consumption of experiences are unique to each individual, however the inputs typically break down to online (including socializing, news, videos, memes, photos, documentaries, music, all along with both strangers and friends opinions on much of the information) and offline (hanging out with friends, trying new things going to restaurants, exploring, traveling, and working). All these things filter through the unique character of the person (the intern self) then is expressed. The self expression of the Millennial is shown in four major areas, namely, creativity, purchases, activities, and social contribution. In most cases, social contribution is also expressing and broadcasting a catered version of the other three, creativity, purchases, and activities.

The outer self has often been discussed in psychology, and is a direct reference to the way in which we present yourself to others. Normally in history, this is exemplified by a person’s chameleon like responses to their surroundings, their social attitude. Some psychologists have argued that the influences the outer self has on the inner self has the potential to be detrimental. This is certainly the case for every stereotype that we see in high school, where peer pressure results in changed attitudes and behaviours of people so that they “fit in better” now beyond the peer pressure influences of how to dress, where to go, what to say and how to act, there is the additional outer self that might be known as the digital self. This is the sum of every interaction and everything we post online. These are the some of what we consciously and subconsciously curate in order to project an image of who we are online. like it or not our digital selves, and our outer selves are branding, pure and simple.

In defense of the digital self, it does provide an opportunity not previously accessible to the traditional expression of the outer self, in that it also provides for us a mirror to view, and reflect on who we are and want to be in our inner lives. In other words, the very production of the digital self through our interaction with people and networks online, is almost a therapeutic tool, for refining who we are as people.

This reverse impact of our digital lives on to our inner lives does has the potential for harm, when we allow it to radically change who we are, or the reactions of others to the image of who we are, is negative, and we attempt to process it. This is exactly what happens in cyber induced depression, caused by bullying, trolls and other people who feel that the veil of the internet acts as a shield of protection from their humanity. this has directly contributed to an entirely new form of psychological strain that has resulted in an spike in suicide and depression that has never been experienced before, and there is little to no escape.

“Because the National Crime Victimization Survey data is weighted to represent the entire enrolled 9th-12th grade student population, it is estimated that about 2.2 million students experienced cyberbullying in 2011. Of the 9% of students that reported being cyber-bullied in the National Crime Victimization Survey compared to 6.2% in 2009 (NCES, 2013):

  • 71.9% reported being cyber-bullied once or twice in the school year
  • 19.6% reported once or twice a month
  • 5.3% reported once or twice a week
  • 3.1% reported almost everyday

Of all of the four major forms of identity expression, the most important to the economy is consumerism, and the role it plays directly with business.

Consumerism has always been part of identity. This is most apparent in fashion, which has historically be a statement about individuality, class, cultural affiliations etc. This expands to nearly all luxury or non-essential purchases. Today it is no expanding even beyond those, and we are assigning purpose to even the essentials that we buy, such as if our toilet paper is recycled paper, our food is GMO free, and if our clothes are not made in sweatshops all matter to us, and provide for us a story of who we are and why. This story of identity is nothing more than self-branding.

For those who have stronger memories of the 1970s and the 1980s, identity was more often than not established by the genre of music that you listened to. If you have a hard time remembering this watch an ‘80s movie about high school sometime, and you’ll see and remember every clique and circle that was circling around nothing more than branded identity.

Today we have more power than ever to brand yourself on every layer. Pinterest is a great example, the boards that people often create our collection of pieces that they feel reflects them or who they want to be in any particular context or interest. Based on the identity of who and what we want to be we can now find any product anywhere in the world that can help support the view of ourselves as we see ourselves and wish to be perceived.

It was always said that we are who our friends are. While that might not be true on facebook, a great indicator of who a person is and their interests can be easily identified by the kind of people they follow on twitter or instagram. Social networks are a form of self branding not just in who we follow, but also what we choose to portray, which is increasingly becoming a carefully curated image of ourselves, our story, in other words our brand, whether we know it or not.

Branding for a company is no different, and we expect no different from a brand than we do a friend.

Changes in spending behavior from previous generations:

  1. They’ll follow brands that add to their identity, and be loyal to them:  At the end of the day branding is all about an identity, not an image. identity is primarily a story of who the brand is how they work and why they do it. It demonstrates a mystique that is added to the Millennial consumer by way of the purchase.
  2. They will always prefer accessible brands. There are two kinds of accessibility. The first is easily accomplished through social media. While the main point of social media is to build a relationship with the customers, by continuous communication, that communication should be a two way road. Twitter is currently one of the best portal for customer service, as a portal for people to tweet directly their thoughts. Because of this it’s important that any brand be checking their twitter and replying to messages within two days, at least. The second form of accessibility is to be so open that customers actually have the ability to give feedback on the products and services, and be able to individually customize purchases, or influence the brand as a whole. This comes out of the open source culture. We’re not talking about suggestion boxes or customer feedback lines. We’re talking about making every product or service truly client driven, and when possible demonstrate the stories of how customers and clients influence the brand itself.
  3. They want the brands to give back more than profit: Millennials believe that every brand should have a reason for being in business beyond just making money, and that they should spread the wealth of success with the broader community or stakeholders affected by their industry. They also expect to see brands that make an effort to refine their products and services from the source, to continue to make the way the produce to be as environmentally and socially friendly as economics allow. These aspects of business are perceived to be a necessary part of a strong business. The side effect is that many Millennials will choose to do do business with brands based on their way of giving back, and remain loyal to them, if that cause, is a piece of their identity that they wish to adopt as part of themselves. When this happens they are most likely to share the brand with their friends and demonstrate their support in a way that generates even more business for the brands themselves.

While at times it may seem that Millennials are in the midsts of an identity crisis, the benefits of the focus on identity are forcing refinement of individuals to consciously think about who they are and who they want to be, as well as forcing the brands to enter into the same exercise. Digital connectivity in a way make us all take a look in the mirror, and continuously analyse, who we are, and why we do what we do. While this has the potential for negative side effects when it comes to self confidence in individuals who are emotionally less mature, there are amazing movements of encouragement and tolerance that are growing ever stronger online.

Because of this the prevailing attitude of the society made of of “digital selves” is full of hope and inspiration for what we can be if we set our minds to it, believe in ourselves, and work our asses off.

Businesses too must be equally malleable as the people who they do business with. They must be ready to tell their story, and refine their identity based on the feedback of their industry, but most especially their clients, and what interests them.

It should be especially noted for both individuals and businesses, that identity, though influx, is made up both stable and flexible elements. The stable elements are what would be previously called the “inner self” that is more or less the character of the person or business. For a person, it is typically the sum of all previous experiences, and the lessons learned. For the business it is often the core values, normally set by the founders, key players, or the board of directors. When that is the case, the character of the business must be consciously chosen, articulated, and trained into the team. That character of the business, is the core of the brand itself, and everything that is produced and served by the business should be done with character in mind.


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