Our minds are one massive input receiver. These inputs become systems, structures, practices, habits, beliefs, biases. Our minds are highly adept at sorting through all of this input by creating mental models to increase the speed of decision making, preserve mental energy and provide situational context — especially in day-to-day situations. Leaders with an elevated level of consciousness (or in Maslow’s terms “self actualized) are aware that these mental models become obsolete and need to be frequently upgraded. Low conscious leaders lock into these mental models so much so that they become institutionalized and create the cult-like nature of many organizations.

For many leaders, the definitions and roles of brand and branding often come from a fixed or static place. It could be from formal education, past experiences, advice from other leaders — or a combo of all three. These fixed ideas about branding are the mental models that inform strategy, prioritization of resources, and assigning value. Upgrading these mental models goes beyond information and knowledge — both of which are a commodity (just do a Google search on branding, and you will see what I mean).

Here are three obsolete branding mental models that might be negatively impacting your brand:

  1. Audience – Demographics are essentially a dead language; a relic of how things used to be measured. Yet demographic profiling remains a stubborn mental model for many leaders. Leaders of B2C companies will say some variation of “our target audience is Millennial-aged urban buyers with college degrees” or “our target audience is 55+ retirees with net worth of greater than $250,000”. Leaders of B2B companies will say “our target audience are companies in the _______ industry.” Yes, these are data points, but they are not an audience. Upgraded model: Focus on the psychographic profile of your ideal audience. What do they believe in? What do they value? What is their unspoken need? What are they attracted to? For B2C brands, these questions will help you form an archetype to speak to. For B2B brands, these questions will remind you that companies don’t buy things, people do. And a free hint … if you don’t know the answers to these questions for your own brand, you won’t be able to understand them for your audience.
  2. Message – The old mental model on messaging is some variation of, “What do we need to say in order to get someone’s attention?” It is very external and often informed by the aforementioned mental model of target audience. From this springs focus groups and test messages. Brands with convictions don’t use focus groups. Instead, they operate from an upgraded mental model on messaging of sharing what their heart has to say to the world. This means speaking truth, taking a stand, having a point of view. It means offending many and attracting some. It means saying what needs to be said because it needs to be said. Not because it tested well. Further, it’s absolutely essential to de-bullshit your brand’s language. No cliches. No buzzwords. Language informs believability. Along with visual elements, your language determines whether or not you will earn your audiences attention. When you use overly-used terms, you contribute to the sea of sameness.
  3. Positioning – For the last 30+ years, the mental model of positioning worked well. It helped you hone in on your audience, your value proposition, your differentiators, your competitors. But now every market is saturated. And not just saturated with crappy products and services. It’s saturated by better branded, better delivered, better made versions of whatever you are selling. The mental model upgrade here is from positioning to category design. Category design is a strategic and intentional approach to naming, defining and owning a category in the marketplace. Positioning ran on being slightly better and safer. Category runs on being radically and provocatively different. Positioning is the battle for the mind — which is an endless war. Category design is the winning of hearts and souls. As such, it requires leaders with conviction, wisdom and courage. If you’re interested in this topic, check out the book “Play Bigger”.

As an industry, advertising needs a massive and total upgrade of its mental model. Chiefly, an upgrade to this: advertising reminds and experiences retain. Or put another way … pay for retention, not attention. Directly related to this is the shifting from the old model of pushing products and services through marketing to the new model of sharing ideas from humans to humans. The old model required saturation, brand recognition, top of mind. This new model requires consistent and believable inspiration and invitation — all of which fuels word of mouth. Which may be the only mental model that doesn’t need an upgrade.

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