The people at Trendbüro in Germany asked if I could asnswer some questions on identity in advance of a workshop they’re doing. I said I’d be happy as long as I could print it on my site as well. Since they’ve now published the interview (in German), I think it’s fair to publish it here. This was done over two emails, so may not flow perfectly.
Your blog has landed no. 29 in Wikio’s most influential blogs ranking. This is sure great for your reputation. How important do you think is reputation to the process of building one’s identity?
Well, first off let me say that I don’t really believe that Wikio ranking. While I am quite honored to be on the list, I don’t quite understand how my site landed there.
As for how important reputation is in building one’s identity, I think I would argue that reputation is just an external measure of identity: It’s how other’s see you and what they think of you.. With that said, I don’t think you can actually have an external identity without a reputation: In the same way a brand doesn’t exist if no one knows about it, your external identity is non-existent if you aren’t interacting with anyone. And by interacting you develop a reputation, people think things about you, say things about it, etc.
Noah, in your blog you argue that people just like brands need to manage their identity. That’s why we interact with others in order to gain recognition, which is vital to building our identity. How, do you think, will this new approach to identity building change the branding of the future?
I don’t know that I argue people need to manage their identity, more be aware of it’s existence. I guess with awareness comes some sort of management, but just as with brands the more considered one’s identity seems to be, the less authentic.
I also don’t know if I agree that “we interact with others in order to gain recognition”. We interact with others first and foremost because as humans we are programmed to do so. We are social creatures, people always trot out the fact that if left untouched a baby will die, but that’s a pretty incredible thing. We require human touch to survive. (I couldn’t find a reference for this, so maybe it’s not true. But I’m pretty sure it is.)
So now that I’ve said all that, I’m not sure I can answer the question . . . Sorry. I don’t quite understand how this is a new approach to identity building.
With the marketplace becoming increasingly fragmented, more and more brands have to exist in niches. As a consequence, brands reach less people and hence less people know and talk about them. It is becoming harder to develop a reputation. What challenge does this pose for managing brand identity?
I’m not sure I completely understand or agree with this one, but let me give a couple (hopefully related) thoughts. Success, I believe, is a relative measure. Any absolute number has been artificially placed on the market (take platinum or gold in the record industry for instance). I think what we’re seeing more is companies who are creating their own success measures. Again, looking at the music industry, if you create a record for $1,000 you don’t need to sell that many copies to be “successful” (at least from a fiscal perspective).
As for managing brand identity, I expect what we’ll see is more and more companies “play the field” and try a bunch of different stuff. Why not create competitive products? Big CPG (FMCG in Europe) companies get this and I think it will continue to spread.
In your blog you stress the importance for brands to manage their identity. With reputation being the external measure of identity, how and to what extent can brands influence what people think and say about them? What role does customer relationship managment play?
Well, I think brands need to start by being aware of their identity existing throughout every consumer touchpoint (whether it’s packaging, advertising or customer service). It’s not good enough to just say what you are, you’ve got to live it (not that I think this is a terribly revolutionary idea). As for customer relationship management, I certainly think this can be an important part, but it depends on both how you define it and what business you’re in. I don’t know how important it is for Coca-Cola, for instance, but for a company like Dell, on the other hand, it’s huge.
You are one of the initiators of likemind, a networking event held regularly in cities around the globe. Richard Florida claims that some cities are becoming creative hubs where innovative people cluster together. From your perspective, how does the interaction between likeminded (creative) people influence their identity?
Well, again, I think as humans we need interaction and naturally are drawn to those who are likeminded (whatever that likemindedness may be grounded in). Clearly your community influences your identity: How you dress, the words you use, the books you read, the music you listen to, etc. I think what’s new here is that more likeminded (creative) people are able to find each other. I just started reading Clay Shirky’s new book and he talks about the expense (in the economic sense) of organizing groups pre-web. That’s gone. We started likemind on a whim and now it’s in around 50 cities around the world. We never promoted it other than occasional announcements on our blogs, yet tens-of-thousands have attended over the year-and-a-half it’s existed. I expect a decade ago this would have been incredibly hard to make happen (but not impossible). While I can’t say for sure, the picture I have in my head is of a much different era where creative people were the exception (or at least they thought they were): The odd-man-out in their company or community. Now, however, we’re all hyper-connected. I meet new people every day from all around the world who I consider likeminded and I think that’s an amazing and exciting thing.
I’m not sure I really answered the question . . . Sorry . . .