As I looked back over 2016, and really stopped to take in what a watershed year it was, there were a few things that really stood out to me going into 2017.
Aside from the election, one thing that got me pondering was the Chicago Cubs winning of the World Series. Their first since 1908.
In all the glee and hubbub over winning it, there is a question that looms in front of Cubs fans: Who are they now? What does it mean to be a Cubs fan? For as long as anyone can remember, being a Cubs fan meant wearing a special badge on your heart. “Long suffering”; “lifted up and dropped right down”; — a group of people bound together by pain and sorrow and the feeling that they are a special breed of “foul-weather” fans who will stand in allegiance no matter what.
But now what? None of that applies any more. Now, the Cubs are just the most recent team to win the World Series. No more being able to bond over “a century of heartbreak.” An identity that many Cubs fans may realize was their #1 coalescent catalyst is now gone. The icon of their identity is no more. A whole bunch of new conversations will need to be developed. What it means to be a Cubs fan will need to be reinvented.
Identities shift and we’d all be wise to pay attention. The way you talk to a group today may not be the way to talk to them tomorrow. Whether it is your company that is changing, or your customer base, or the market conditions, you need to stay alert to how your customers perceive you, your product, but especially themselves.
A question I have been spending a lot of time on, on behalf of clients, for the last year or so, is: “who am I asking someone to be, in order for them to do business with me?” And the obverse: “How must someone define themselves, to make us the answer?”
This came up huge in the 2016 elections. Groups that had not previously been under the same umbrella were presented with an identity (of themselves) which brought them together.
Quite abruptly, the questions of “who do I have to be, to vote Democrat?” and “who do I have to be, to vote Republican?” are being answered very differently.
So whether it is for a Cubs fan needing a new way to identify themselves, a voter seeking a new answer to address their most critical problems, or a prospective customer looking for a “fit” that feels right; we need to be asking: “who does somebody have to be, to be with me?”
If you’re asking them to be someone they don’t want to be, then you have a problem.
Optimally, someone gets to think better of themselves because they are “doing business” with you. — That they will arrive at, or are on the road to, a better destination because you are their travelling partner.
It’s not just about telling someone how great you are; it's allowing them to imagine relevant greatness for themselves, too.
Behavior change can come about from many motivators, including negative ones. However, as motivation wanes, the behavior change will go with it. If you’re interested in true, long-lasting behavior change, the key is in identity.
The way we imagine our personal and national identities makes us liable to act and think in certain ways and, just as importantly, makes us liable to interpret other people’s actions through the prism of our own imagined identity – not through theirs.
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