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Photo courtesy of Billie.

On signaling behavior, moving the defaults and taking big swings

For a few weeks during the Coronavirus’ spread across the United States, Americans all spoke the same language.

Phrases like “flatten the curve” and “social distancing” entered our lexicon. Many have documented our new set of social norms, from stepping away from strangers on the street (once awkward, now thoughtful) to wearing a mask in public (once suspicious, now a sign of good citizenship).

But then these shared standards began taking on political connotations.

As government officials split over next steps in the battle against the virus, Americans fell back into factions, now perhaps easier to distinguish than ever. …

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Photo by Robin C Samuel.

Now is the time to decide if your brand is a habit or a ritual

When people or brands say, “We’ll get through this together,” or “After the Coronavirus has passed,” they’re revealing a lie in our collective words of encouragement.

There will very likely be no “before and after” COVID.

Instead, there will be a very slow tumbling of closures and business failures, amplified by a reshuffling of social norms and broken ideals.

Today, grocery stores have begun installing plexiglass barriers and safe standing zones for checkout, while airlines have less and less direct flights and stewards ask travelers to raise their hands to go the bathroom. …

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If we can’t see it in our culture, we can’t know it in the market.

This is the podcast we always wanted to create for our readers.

Unseen Unknown is a brand and business strategy podcast about the hidden threads that connect even the most distant of cultural concepts. We look at the emerging trends and behaviors, and ask the bigger question, “Why is society moving in this direction, and how can we apply it to business?”

This is where Jean-Louis, my partner at Concept Bureau, and I combine our futurist thinking with our brand strategy experiences.

We believe if we can’t see it in our culture, we can’t know it in the market.

Before we saw the same wellness brands appear on both Goop and InfoWars, we couldn’t know that America’s warring sides were searching for the same myth. …

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When markets for premium toilet paper and convenience store wine start to prove themselves, a brand reckoning isn’t far behind.

When I arrived in Tokyo’s Nirita International Airport on a cold December morning, before I even searched for baggage claim, I had located my first asian 7-Eleven on the second floor of arrivals.

It was all there — puffy cloud pastries, fried chicken on a stick (soon to become my preferred breakfast for the next two weeks), racks of single sushi pieces in colorful wrapping — and it all lived up to the hype.

The fabled foodie culture that haloed 7-Elevens overseas just two years ago hadn’t quite come to the US at that point, but today something is changing.

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The Smithsonian shows that our collective scrambling to define the canon is, in fact, a rebellious act. Alrosa begs the question of ownership. Outdoor Voices pulls a Mariah Carey.

I write a lot about defining strategy and how to build a brand. My goal is to always look for companies that are doing it right because those are the ones we best learn from (although it would be much easier to simply point out the ones that are doing it wrong).

Strategy, however, is only half the equation. The way companies bring those strategies to life can reveal a whole new world of learnings. Their tactics, decisions and moves are all signals to the consumer and to the marketplace.

They show us both what people want now, and how much they are willing to tolerate in being pushed into the future.

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This is what the business of identity looks like.

If you want to know the values of a culture, look at its language.

In America, we’ve come to talk about time through a very distinct metaphor hiding in plain sight:

  • Can you spare some time tomorrow for a quick chat?
  • Let’s make this worth our while.
  • I’ve invested a lot of time in this project.
  • Thank you for your time.
  • Don’t forget to save time for the Q&A.
  • Use your time wisely.

In American culture, time is a valuable commodity as pointed out by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their fascinating book Metaphors We Live By. You don’t see this in the languages of other cultures like those in the Middle East or Africa because their cultural values are markedly different than ours. …

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Photo by Jeff Frenette.

3 Ways To Redefine Your Business Through Branding

Your brand is a series of consistent decisions that bolster your positioning and demonstrate what you stand for. You should be able to take any business decision — HR, sales, communications, operations, PR, product, UX/ UI, or otherwise — filter it through your brand identity, and arrive at an on-brand answer that you can act on.

That’s not an exaggeration. The best brands do it every day, from high-level strategic decisions to day-to-day tactical actions.

On a strategic level, we see numerous examples of companies that based their business choices on their brand strategy:

  • WeWork moved into living spaces and childcare because of their belief in utopian communities. Rather than following their capabilities into new co-working formats, they followed their brand belief into new centers of citizenry. …

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon.

If your users carry a shame story with them, you need a very different kind of strategy.

There are pockets of shame hiding in everyday life, and every one of your users encounters them.

Some of us feel shame about status symbols like money or marriage, while others may feel shame about personal shortcomings like fear or failure.

Shame is a universal part of the human experience, and is always borne of a story: stories we tell ourselves, stories that have been told to us, or stories we’ve co-opted from culture and community over time.

It’s also an important emotional trigger to study because unlike other triggers, it causes us to behave both irrationally and severely. There are few other things that sting us as deeply as a shameful memory, and no greater negative driver in our behavior. …

It’s the most important destination for your brand and users. This is how to get there.

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Photo by Oliver Sjöström.

I had a prenatal massage at one of my favorite spa chains recently, and struggled with trust in a way I’ve never experienced before.

I love massages. I always have and I get them regularly. But a prenatal massage is different. You can’t lay down in the same positions or put pressure on certain body parts like the stomach and ankles. You feel stiff on the table, but because the hormone relaxin has actually loosened your joints, you may be far more flexible (and prone to strain) than you realize.

Overall, it’s like discovering yourself in a new body, which means I wasn’t in my favorite spa getting my 60 minute massage. …

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The only rules worth following are the ones you write yourself.

Very few companies understand the big idea behind their brand, if they even have one.

They may know their mission and vision. They may see how they plan to disrupt their space, or have a feel for what the big idea is behind their product, but the big idea behind a brand is something very different.

Your brand’s big idea is a notion or concept that changes the rules for everyone in the space — you, the customer and your competitors.

The rule used to be that food programing on television was a specialty genre. …


Jasmine Bina

Brand Strategist, speaker, writer, traveler, CEO of Concept Bureau. Finder of patterns & connections. | Twitter/ Instagram: @triplejas

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