Wednesday, March 9, 2016

More Than Salutation, Brands Must Change How They See People To Stay In-Sync

On many levels identity is undergoing significant transformation in our culture, reflected in the zeitgeist of increased empowerment, personalized choice and self-expression. Lately there’s been renewed media attention upon the revolution in gender identity. The binary, male vs female way to identify ourselves has given way to a multiplicity of new concepts reflected in the emergence of a whole new language of pronouns and prefixes.  The development and popularity of the Furries subculture reflects not just identity fluidity but expansion, anthropomorphically.

Arguable there are few things more fundamental to how we define ourselves than our gender. For brands who want to demonstrate they understand us and respect us, how they approach us is key to getting that right.

The challenge for marketers is that culture is in flux. It’ll be a while before the dizzying gender alternatives in circulation will thin out and stabilize.  No one can predict where it will land.  Facebook can get away with it because as the social platform for the planet a huge part of its concept is rooted in connection across people’s individually created profiles so there’s implicitly a greater understanding of and receptiveness to the organic nature of how we define ourselves through culture. For other brands moving early risks a misstep, which could temporarily make the brand look foolish or worse evoke a backlash.

The opportunity for a brand in embracing an emerging cultural theme is that gives it a modern, progressive character.  The brand is not just of the ‘now’ it is leading the times as a social innovator.  It’s incredibly hard for brands to stand out and apart from their competition today so making this kind of move can deliver distinctiveness that is meaningful – because there are few things more personal than identity.

Trip Advisor conveys its modern recognition for gender choice by offering “Another gender identity.’ rather than only the male or female option.  It enables people to express what they don’t identify with without having to convey what they do associate with.  It avoids a rush to categorize alternatives that might leave some options unrepresented which might invoke a backlash.

Caremark, a medication fulfillment company for BCBS, have also stepped up. Inquiring about the primary insured, they asked whether it was me, my spouse, my wife or husband.  These choices do not presuppose any specific kind of orientation and signals not just a recognition but an embrace of a more open, less assumptive approach to a circumstance.

A move by a brand towards gender sensitivity might seem small but there are few things as great as gender in how we see ourselves. Brands that show they understand us by how they greet us will inspire empathy and will stand apart from those who don’t.

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