Two Nations, Forever Divided: Welcome To The Age of Positional Marketing
2020 has been a year where days feel like weeks and the months like decades. There’s a palpable feeling that we’re hurtling toward a massive cultural shift, and it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime.
America has fractured into two nations, at least in terms of culture, values, and civic outlook. Unlike any other time in our history, however, these nations are not divided by geographical boundaries. Instead, these differing worldviews exist everywhere, in every neighborhood, and sometimes in our very homes.
What makes a nation? By most definitions, a nation is a stable community of people formed based on a common language, territory, history, ethnicity, or psychological composition manifested in a common culture. Other definitions describe nations as cultural-political communities that have become conscious of their autonomy, unity, and specific interests.
Definitions may vary, but one thing is clear: America is no longer a single nation. We’ve gone well beyond mere political division; Americans now have diametric views on topics as fundamental as disease transmission and human rights.
There’s no backing away from the edge this time. We crossed the Rubicon when we elected Donald Trump as president, knowing full well that we were forever changing our society. We opted to throw the rulebook out the window, for better or worse. That’s what we wanted, and that’s what we got.
I used to be a social and political chameleon of sorts, adopting a centrist view on matters so that I could effectively function in whichever America I found myself in. At the same time, I genuinely believed that most people shared my views; that we indeed were a centrist nation at heart, and that the driving polarization of the past 20 years would eventually give way to a more cohesive society.
I no longer believe that.
I’ve found that if you dig beneath the surface of even the most vocally centrist ideology, you’ll find that it runs only skin deep. Show me a centrist, and I’ll show you a partisan who hasn’t yet experienced real pressure.
If you feel like we’re on the verge of something big, you’re not alone. Everyone can feel the energy of the moment, though many may not want to admit to it.
We need to stop thinking about winning or losing an election. The political pendulum will continue to swing wildly for a time, but the revolution has already occurred.
There are two Americas, and each one of us needs to pick which one we want to live in. The difference between the two could not be starker, and while we may occupy the same geography, we don’t speak the same language, share the same values, or believe the same things.
This revelation has led me to believe that we’re about to enter into a new era of what I call “positional marketing.” Just as we will personally have to choose which nation to live in, companies will find themselves forced to do the same.
If you have even a passing interest in the world of business, you’ve likely encountered Simon Sinek’s incredibly popular book and TED talk “Start With Why.”
The core concept behind Sinek’s multi-channel platform is the idea that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Sinek encourages business leaders to “find their why” and learn to communicate it effectively to potential clients. The idea has found traction, especially among the startup community.
Sinek’s concept is deceptively simple and carries with it a heavy burden. Companies reflect both the values of the founders as well as the people who work there. In the past, there was room for people with diverse views to coexist peacefully while fulfilling the corporate mission.
Now, however, organizations are becoming more and more ideologically segmented. For example, Facebook has faced significant pressure from its employees to take a stand against what many perceive to be racist and hateful advertising. Like Hobby Lobby, other companies have taken umbrage with public health directives that have resulted from the global pandemic.
As companies begin to embrace one nation over the other and homogenize their internal thinking, it only stands to reason that their “why” will evolve to favor one nation over the other.
We find ourselves moving into an era where companies will need to take a political stand and decide which nation to pledge allegiance. If it isn’t already, it will soon be impossible to develop products and services that serve both of America’s nations.
Pivoting to survive and thrive in this new age of partisan marketing will be difficult, particularly for small and mid-sized businesses. Those companies who thought they could sit on the sidelines will face a rude awakening. Business owners will need to evaluate every action, every statement, and every post through the positional marketing prism.
If this sounds dystopian to you, it’s because it is. As Lincoln said the last time our nation was this polarized, “A house divided cannot stand.” Yet here we are: divided and standing, at least for a just a bit longer.
I don’t know how things will work out. I can’t think of a single example where a society has survived with a fractured soul for long.
The truth is that I’m an entrepreneur, not a sociologist. My job is to marvel at the wonders of the age and help businesses make decisions in these wild times.
While reflecting on these ideas, I found myself thinking back to a quote from one of my favorite artists, Paul Simon. When asked about a track entitled “The Boy In The Bubble,” which appeared on his 1986 album Graceland, Simon told Rolling Stone, “Hope and dread… that’s the way I see the world — a balance between the two, but coming down on the side of hope.”
As for me, I come down on the side of hope. Only time will tell if I’m right. The one thing I know for sure is that the lyrics of “The Boy In The Bubble” ring as true now as they did almost 35 years ago.
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry, baby, don’t cry