Before you create a brand ask yourself this question

Our innate desire to belong to a group is heaven and hell for marketers.


Power to the people

Sociobiologists have documented humans’ very strong desire to belong to groups, and that group vs. group is a principal driving force of our evolution. Wilson (2012) states that group selection lifted the hominids to heights of solidarity, genius, enterprise and fear. Each tribe knew that survival depended on success on the battle field.

I have written previously about the power of language to shape organisation culture. (Remember Enron?) and today talk of war still permeates our language: the battle against inflation, the fight against obesity, and the war against aids.

Modern man inherits all the pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. Showing war’s horror has no effect on him. (William James, 1906).

So pre-cursors to Homo Sapiens formed organised groups that competed against other groups for resources and indeed survival. Within that group your status was determined by your contribution; that is your social behaviours in a group determined your value. The currency of the in-group is reciprocity. (You scratch my back and I scratch yours – if you watch the baboons closely you will notice where this expression originates.)

Social Media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook have tapped into this innate desire to belong to a group very successfully.

Human beings have therefore become adept at reading behaviour and taking their cues from the social context (what neuroscientists have labelled ‘social proof’) in which they find themselves because the skill at doing so determined your survivability.

Very often people take decisions which are completely irrational, but do so in an apparent desire to conform to group norms.

The power of the group can be clearly illustrated by studies where researchers randomly group people into arbitrary groups. They are assigned a commonality (i.e. it is not real) such as Group A are Rembrandt fans and Group B are Picasso fans. After spending time in each other’s company, the member of the groups are then asked to evaluate (rate) the opposing group members on a number of attributes.

Without fail, each group will rate the other group more negatively than their own group. That is the other members will be deemed to be stupider, lazier, more negative, less fun and so forth. There is no rational basis for this assessment, but that is what belonging to a group does to your judgment.

This is the cause of much pain if you consider the debates about gender, immigration, race, and religion etc. where people strongly identify with one group over another and make those negative attributions without realising their biases.

But for a marketer this is a double-edged sword.

Back to war.

Human beings still desire war and relish in conflict. But it has become more sanitised as we have become more civilised. These desires now find an outlet in sport. Members of a particular group will don the ‘uniform’ and the ‘war paint’ and gather their ‘weapons’ and go off to the match to be part of the battle.

If you study the crowds you will realise that a significant portion are not there to witness the battle, but they become part of the battle. With a victory comes personal elation and it is not simply being ‘happy for the team’. The team’s wins and losses become your wins and your losses - that is the high and low of being a member of that particular group; the joys and sorrows of being fan.

Sport illustrates very clearly the challenge we face as business people and marketers:

How do we create fans of our brands?

Some companies have lamely resorted to bribing people to ‘like’ them. ‘Like us on Facebook and we will donate 10c for each like to charity’ is the equivalent of a struggling sports team giving away free tickets; and we all know that does not work.

Some companies have started using social media (like blogs and twitter) but simply still use it as a megaphone to talk to their ‘target’ market (another war reference) which is a sure sign that they don’t understand fandom.

Creating fans is of utmost importance because fans will (irrationally) support their ‘group’ and they will keep buying and will even do your marketing for you – by asking other people to come to the game with them. Even the team at the bottom of the ladder has fans who (seem to get perverse pleasure from) sticking to their team.

To create fans of your brand is not an easy exercise. There are plenty of wannabe gurus who will sprout general aphorisms such as ‘engage the customer’ and ‘become authentic’. I won’t add to that cacophony here.

BEFORE any of these ideas are considered or even implemented, there is a much bigger question to be answered, and that is:

Is your brand fan-worthy?

If you were honest with yourself, do you even really know what your brand is? Would you have been passionate about your brand if it wasn’t your brand?

Then and only then can you continue with more detailed actions and strategies and war/sports analogy is a good one to consider.

Think about a new brand like Western Sydney Wanderers and take some lessons out of that.

1. The fundamental need for (European) football – that is soccer – in the ethnically diverse markets of Western Sydney is obvious. (Is there a market for your product?)

2. They created a brand of football that people could naturally identify with because from very early on they won games. (It sounds obvious but to win games you have to score goals and not concede goals. To score goals you have to attack. To win you must not concede goals. SO the WSW brand is good, fighting brand: attack hard, defend hard and never give up. (Is your brand worthy of the contest?)

3. WSW took their fans on a journey: the newcomers who are keen to make their mark. This ‘underdog’ narrative is obviously appealing to ‘New Australians’ who share the experience. (What is your story, and do people identify with it?)

4. The actual game experience (usually) was a lot of fun. They played at smaller grounds making it an intimate experience and the coach created a culture where the players engaged with the fans after matches for extended periods. (The players ‘lived’ the Brand, which makes it authentic.)

I suppose there are more lessons to take from this example, but the key point is made: Make sure your brand is fan-worthy, and the fans will do all the work for you.

Q.E.D. (Just kidding.)

Have fun. (That always helps.)


GANADOR: Architects of high-performance retail environments.

·        PS: If you are in Melbourne, check this out.

Is your brand brave enough to do this (serious)

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