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Welcome to February’s Free Thinking…
This month I’m focusing exclusively on the important subject of our social selves:

Lots of literature has been devoted to social identity in the last few years, probably the most accessible is the ‘Social Animal’ by David Brooks.  He, and others, have reminded us that much of our behaviour and decision making is driven by how we see ourselves in relation to others, where our place is in the social group. 
We can have multiple social identities depending on which group we are identifying with at any one time.  (You might identify as ‘Man Utd fan; diligent worker; fat slob; death metalist; king of the road, and so on…)
In a recent article on social identity, the Harvard Business School make the case for why social identity matters to brands and marketing. 

Their argument is that brands need to understand which social identity we are tuned in to when we are experiencing any given brand. Imagine, they say, our identities are like different radio stations, and in different situations we turn the dial to tune in to the right one for that situation.
Significantly for brands, the article suggests ways to exploit, amplify and create social identity and the behaviours associated with it. Some examples:
Lynx realised that Italian men were watching their TV ads at home with mama and papa in the room, and were in ‘dutiful son’ mode.So, the brand team switched their campaign strategy so that their target market encountered the brand when they were on nights out, and had an altogether different social identity
Jeep has built social identity within its owner group through the ‘tread lightly’ campaign – giving Jeep owners the goal of protecting nature, which has in turn increased appreciation of the brand and driven sales - an example of creating behaviours that lead to stronger social identity...
Unilever understood that it needed to build values around  its target social group in order to grow sales: it launched a low water rinse product in Indonesia, but saw women still using copious amounts of water when washing clothes.

They realised that women were washing in public and were in ‘good mum mode’ (signified by lots of scrubbing and rinsing) so they invested in marketing campaigns which ‘reframed’ what it meant to be a good mum, building social identity around being a smart, savvy homemaker (saving money and time).

Research has an important role in social identity marketing.  Two core methodologies work here:
'Real Time Research’ getting respondents to record their encounters with brands in order to understand which social identity they are experiencing when they are around the brand.  (Apps, bulletin boards and other recording methods come into play here)
Identity exploration using evidence based materials to explore and understand in more detail what our identities are, and what it means for brands (good old-fashioned depth and groups, using techniques designed to explore the sub-conscious: archetypes; projective techniques, and so on…)
And beyond this brands need to consider:

How well do I ‘display’ group values?
How should I develop values that the group will aspire to?
How can I create positive group behaviours that will help build my brand?
In the article the team at Harvard also run an experiment showing that you can ‘prime’ people into a new social identity pretty quickly, and therefore build behaviours around a brand. 

This too has implications for research, both positive and negative.  It means you can build a strong identity in a group discussion – great for developing and evolving new product development…

The downside, of course, is that people may be ‘peforming’ in a particular social mode when they are in a focus group, which steers you off course when you are trying to gather insight about how people, think, feel and behave around your brand.

As always, group discussions should be treated with care, they are great for some kinds of insight (how a brand might become) and dodgy when it comes to insight around ‘how we are’… because we are so many things!
February really has been the month of the streetmates, so big thanks, in particular, to
Researchers Ambreen Aziz and Sandra Hand