How Brands Help Us Build Ourselves From The Outside In…. Or, how I found out my son thought I was a boring old fart!

  1. market segmentation

A couple of weeks ago, I had a marketing epiphany…

I was out shopping with my fourteen year old son. We had stopped off at one of those familiar branded coffee shops – me for an Americano to keep me awake and him for a hot chocolate to keep him happy.

Of course, I was picking up the bill.

I ordered our drinks and got my wallet out to pay. Well, I say ‘my wallet’, it was actually his old one. He has just got a nice new one, badged with the respectably trendy, Vans label.   That meant his old, perfectly serviceable, Animal, wallet was now available for me to use. My own, staid and dull, black leather, wallet was falling apart so I was pleased to have something to keep my money in that wasn’t in pieces and, frankly, was a bit more on trend than is usual for me.

As soon as he saw me get his old wallet out of my pocket, he glowered at me. “Oh my God. You’re so embarrassing. Why are you using that? You’re far too old. Put it away.”

That was when I had my epiphany.

I have always regarded market segmentation as something that Marketers do to their customers.   They put them into groups, based on demographics and psychographics.   They categorise them using tools such as MOSAIC and ACORN and by thus stereotyping them make it possible for them to be targeted as the passive recipients of marketing initiatives. They create ‘types’.

But actually, we, as customers do that segmentation on ourselves by ourselves. In fact, we use their brands to socially construct our identity from the outside in.

Why do I wear a Rolex watch? It’s clearly not to tell me the time. My phone does that, or if I really was desperate, I could buy a Casio digital watch from Argos for under a tenner. I wear a Rolex because (I’m embarrassed to say) I think that it makes a statement about me.

That’s also why I prefer to use a Platinum credit card, rather than a bog standard one, although the basic card works in exactly the same way as my Platinum one when I buy something.

They are both rectangular bits of plastic with a magnetic strip down the back and a computer chip on the front. With both of them, the credit card company pays the shop which is selling me the item and, at the end of the month, sends me a bill for all of the transactions I have made. The processes that enable the transaction are exactly the same.   The only difference is that the Platinum card has shared brand values imbued in it by me and my peers that mean, once again, it makes a statement about me that I want to make. It helps me project an image, or if you like, is part of the way I construct my own personal brand and brand values.

So actually, we are all appropriating brands to socially construct and project who and what we are. To reaffirm it to ourselves and to proclaim it to others. We segment ourselves in society.

Of course my epiphany wasn’t to discover this fact. There is an underlying sociological theory to support this hypothesis. It is called Social Constructionism and is described thus: “A major focus of social constructionism is to uncover the ways in which individuals and groups participate in the construction of their perceived social reality.” (Source – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_constructionism )

No my epiphany was to identify and understand my son’s problem? His problem was that his old wallet represented a portfolio of socially constructed, brand related, statements about attitudes, aspirations, values, age, social class, life-style, peer group etc., all of which were inconsistent with me and what I am, which, he kindly explained to me, is, in essence, a “boring old fart….”

Kids eh?

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About the Author

Quentin Crowe

Quentin Crowe

Managing Director & Founder of The Marketers’ Forum. Quentin has over 20 year marketing experience in the insurance, sports and education sectors. He has taught every level of CIM since 2002 as well as being a visiting lecturer at Greenwich University. He worked in the Lloyd’s of London insurance market for 13 years before setting up his own consultancy business in 2000.

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