Ordinarily, I try to use this blog to encourage dialogue about issues of faith in society today. One of the issues I think plays into how we perceive matters of faith has to do with the way marketing and commercialism has inundated our culture at large and therefore had an impact on the way we see some core issues, some of which impact the way we interact with each other about faith. Religion is just another brand and brand managers have on the whole failed to consider some basic elements of the human experience in the way marketing impacts our lives. This post is an effort to synthesize those things and to open a discussion about free will, marketing, and the place we lost touch.
Cost is always a function of life. It is rarely, if ever, a purely financial transaction in the minds of decision making humans. Humans judge cost using a "free will to quality of life" ratio that measures cost on a spectrum of free will. Decisions that end up in a lessened sense of freedom of choice are percieved as of the greatest cost and often in our modern age the single biggest limiter to freedom of will happens to be financial.
"If I spend my money on this, I may not have the freedom to purchase something else later."
Notice that built into this "if/then" statement is an intrinsic sense of time - hence many decisions are made, not to consider the best interest of the moment but long term and many decisions against purchase are often made simply in order to avoid the emotional entanglement of "buyer's remorse." Yet other buying decisions seem more impulsive, sacrificing the long term for the benefit of short term. Why?
The emotional draw to experience freedom of will is so strong it outweighs many other considerations. So we have in a single buying decision notions of freedom of will, the emotional reaction to the existential now, and a built-in sense that time is a pathway to additional potentially freedom-altering variables. No wonder marketing seems like such a tough nut to crack.
We are not born with full freedom of will intact. We know this from an early age. There are restraints of gravity, oxygen, water, food, size, stregth, use of the five primary organic sensors in the body - the physical universe itself exists as a natural barrier to our desire to experience pure freedom of will.
As a result, much of our lives we are motivated to and from elements we perceive can positively impact the balance of freedom of will. Thus the 3 paths to marketing success all require a perspective that shows how humans count the cost of any purchase as being a function of the preservation and expansion of personal freedom of will.
The First Path: Life Altering - an increase in freedom of will.
Humans are hard wired for variety and diversity in all things, from diet to climate, identity to attraction. Because we know we have an instinctive passion/tolerance for variation, products and services can have a naturally motivated appeal. We can change what we eat and have a belief that we will have a better life as a result. So we are already on the lookout for products and services (brand) that can change our experience of life. Specifically those products that can offer as a part of the "better life" an increase in personal freedom of will, either by association or directly, will have the greatest chance of motivating a user to adopt them into their experience.
"WE ARE THE VARIETY YOU HAVE NOT YET EXPERIENCED BUT YOU NEED TO EMPOWER CHANGE IN YOUR LIFE."
Brands that most successfully navigate this keep consumers in a "variety loop" that has them moving from product to product inside a superstructure of brand all of which benefit a single beneficiary. Restaurant chains are a great example of this in that they offer a menu of choices - all of which benefit them. Products like alcohol against which there might be a moral argument about consumption have done well by highlighting that a choice to consume is a small instance of the exercising of free will.
We sense this emotionally because we are aware of the cultural mix of limitations and freedoms that surround that choice, and in some ways the sensing of the exercising of that freedom of will is a more powerful draw than the physical rewards of consumption. This is true for all products that are known to be potentially harmful and a large portion of the cases of abuse and addiction could be twarted by providing surrogates to the emotional experience of instances of free will exercised rather than through chemical treatment or an altering of brain chemistry balance. Products and services that successfully facilitate the pre-visualization of life as different with their product will see increased willingness on the part of the consumer to adopt that product despite any perceived cost.
This path to marketing success offers an increase in the freedom of personal will by fulfilling an innate craving for variety.
The Second Path: Life Affirming - a preservation of freedom of will.
For as much as we are hard-wired for variety, there is something about the human experience that craves regularity - more than regularity; recognition. We are hard wired for variety as an adaptive trait, to survive in a variety of environments and on a variety of life-sustaining substances. But life is not without its system of checks and balances. Often the counterbalance (and yet sometimes the compliment) to this search variety is an equally powerful search for pattern recognition.
This drive for pattern recognition exists on an emotional level in our decision making parameters as a function of free will as well. This is the "hold em or fold em" scenario where we are aware of our current level of ability to experience the emotional sensation of the expression of freedom of will and are somewhat protective of it. That is the natural inclination against variety, against the temporal vortex of restrictions that might emerge from the unknown.
It is our brain's ability to recognize patterns that allows us to understand same-ness in the first place and that same-ness/variety push/pull is like a bouyancy that holds us in place. Too much variety can be lethal as can too much same-ness, particularly (again) when set in the context of linar time. It may not be lethal to eat a different food every day but the search for new foods to eat over time may provide an ultimately poisonous option, likewise sameness of seemingly inert foods may prove fatal over time.
What might this all have to do with the second path to marketing success? Those products that tap into our desire to establish patterns of familiarity (same-ness as an end toward safe-ness, let's say) will have a greater degree of success by presenting an image, not just of the emotional rewards of familiarity, but of the potential for restriction of personal freedom that change (change of product or brand, for example) might precipitate.
This path to marketing success affirms for the buyer their own level of freedom of will by offering to maintain stability.
The Third Path: Life Saving/Ending - a removal of the burden of the search for freedom of will.Variety and familiarity are both cues that we use to assess our own volume of personal freedom of will. We can feel limited in freedom of will by variety but variety can also allow us to experience the emotional power of exercising our freedom of will. Familiarity can be a safe harbor for freedom of will, but also a trap. It is that constant dance between preserving our freedom of will through familiarity and expanding our freedom of will through variety that informs our buying decisions and brands that traverse this plane skillfully can experience marketing success in either environment or both.
The most powerful path to marketing success, however, rests in the promise of the eradication of the seemingly endless human search for the emotional experience of the exercising of freedom of will altogether. As mentioned, we are keenly aware of both the strength of our drive to have freedom of will, and with the natural limitations that mere existence places on it, and thusly spend a great deal of our thinking lives burdened by that disparity. Products and services that can offer a removal of that burden are of the highest value and warrant even the greatest cost.
Those brands that can tie their acceptance to this release from the burden of the pursuit of the freedom of will, either directly or indirectly stand to benefit the most. Yet this is the most delicate of all paths. Ideally, the buyer feels that the brand provides ample options for future freedom and stability and familiarity enough to reduce the drive to seek new experiences that illicit feelings we know come only when we are exercising free will. That's where brand loyalty really comes into play.
Brand loyalty has diminished in recent years. The assumption by marketers is that paradigm shifts in modern culture have out-moded brand loyalty as an rational expectation. This is not the case. Nothing has changed in the buyer to reduce the value of the circumstances that can provide for brand loyalty.
What has changed are the techniques and norms for marketers, who have failed to create those circumstances due to a lack of attention given to the role of the pursuit of free will in the buying decision. Marketers have created a modern tradition of going after the low hanging fruit of marketing - generating a buying need based on fear of instability of freedom of will or the false promise of the life altering nature of brand acceptance.
In an ideal scenario, a brand is able to guide a buyer through each of the three paths in order, first as life altering, then as life affirming, and finally as life saving(ending.)
Following these three sacred pathways into understanding human buyer motivation in terms of the emotional experience that accompanies actions of free will can lead to marketing success, and ultimately to a return in the circumstances that can allow for brand loyalty once again.
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