Concept of Identity is Shifting

Favorite Artists
In tech, the concept if identity is defined by the ability to manage individuals as part of a system, for example a corporate network. Identity is one of the three primary domains to master for organizations, along with information and relationships.

More recently, we have also discussed identity and the Internet. When Google announced it had dropped the real name restrictions it placed upon users of its Google+ social network, I went back to my notes on the online ID model.

While developers may think about authentication, professionals about representation and reputation, by and large most everyone thinks about how we communicate and personalize our experience.

When we take a social science angle, identity becomes a person's own idea of who they are and what their place in the world is. This is becoming more important for marketers because we make decisions based upon how we think about ourselves.

In a decision-making situation we ask three questions:

  1. who am I?
  2. what kind of situation is this?
  3. what would someone like me do in this situation?

This is universal, a human trait, not just a trait of people in the U.S., or people of a certain age group.

In their November report#, Trendwatching collects examples of a more fluid take on social identity and calls it post-demographic consumerism:

People – of all ages and in all markets – are constructing their own identities more freely than ever. As a result, consumption patterns are no longer defined by ‘traditional’ demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status and more.

Think about how our purchasing decisions and business relationships flow naturally from who we are. I suggest that our identity is made up of several things:

  • heritage — where we were born, where we live, our age, educational background, etc.
  • environment — transient external factors such as the economy
  • needs — they include both what we truly need and what we think we need and actually just want
  • interactions — we also define ourselves in relationship to others

Add to our desire to express who we are freely, our ability to access information seemingly anywhere and any time, and you have a new kind of permission on the social mobility scale.

In branding terms this may look like access to the same kind of product experience whether we are in Paris or in Berlin, and in some cases with a style that is for (thus independent from) all ages, genders, and races — Uniqlo# is cited as an example of this trend.

During a talk about his then new book What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly described things people will pay for and cannot be copied. These are:

  • Immediacy — would you pay for right now? How about if we add context, five new customers; a piece of information you need badly to close a deal; making that problem go away… also think of newsletters with fresh and timely analysis
  • Personalization — would you pay to have personalized medicine, for example?
  • Authenticity — people do pay for the real deal in art, collecting, design, fashion, an experience they participate in… how are making decisions about this one in your process?
  • Attention — is what you're paying now for attention giving you the desired results? What would you pay to get those?
  • Interpretation — some common ground with my thoughts on open to interpretation. It's really up to your customer to write the last part of the right now narrative from their own needs and experience. But once this happens, the story will become memorable in ways that turn customers into the next tier of storytellers
  • Accessibility — early in my career, I interviewed for a position at the Italian Mission to the United Nations. They required living in Manhattan, to be on call. Think about how people pay for access in leases, rentals, and services like Uber, AirBnB, co-working spaces
  • Embodiment –I think of this as the experience, what happens at the Ritz Carlton, for example, that would not happen in other hotels; or a concert, where you may have the same music, different performance
  • Findability — in fact, connecting people with what they are looking for, which is especially powerful when they are not sure of what that is. There is very helpful reference on filters and aggregators in The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

These are the more ephemeral and democratic aspects of desire. Kelly calls them generatives, because they have to be generated in context, they cannot be copied, which makes them valuable.

Tied to the social aspects of contemporary identity, they confer a different kind of status on people. One more connected to lifestyle than wealth and age.

Using the generatives as a lens, marketers and brands can support (from Trendwatching):

  1. NEW NORMAL: Embrace and celebrate new racial, social, cultural and sexual norms
  2. HERITAGE HERESY: Be prepared to re-examine or even overturn your brand heritage
  3. CROSS-DEMOGRAPHIC FERTILIZATION: Look to seemingly foreign demographics for inspiration
  4. HYPER-DEMOGRAPHIC IRONY: Focus on ever smaller niches of interest rather than circumstance

Consider the role of these needs in your business product or service lines – and make it easy to pay you to get them. Where attention goes, money will follow.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *