1737fd5a3cf53d36655593ca8dd080d6Your alma mater. Your home and neighborhood. Your watch or car.

Few, if any, buy these things based on a reasonable analysis of cost vs. benefit.

Because in our minds, what’s really at stake is our identity.

Are you a Baylor man, or a technical college man?

Frankly, if you’re a high school student, the cost-benefit analysis weighs very, very heavily towards technical college. Seriously. Listen to Mike Rowe. Crunch the numbers. You’ll be amazed.

But if you have a family legacy of attending Baylor (or Alabama or Harvard)…

And it’s very much the same thing with where you live and what kind of home you live in as well as what kind of car you drive. Are you in the swanky neighborhood, or do you live on the wrong side of the tracks?

The point is that a sure way to motivate people to pay a premium for your brand is to associate it with identity rather than logical reason-why appeals. For when identity is at stake, people will spend irrationally. Hence the appeal of Rolex. Or Mercedes Benz. Or almost any luxury brand you can think of.

Identity is also why thousands of parents choose a full size SUV with 3rd row seating over a lower-priced minivan that get’s better gas mileage. Because they’re rather obviously not doing it on a cost-benefit basis.

Put that way, your choices become rather stark:

  • You can persuade people to think in terms of benefit per dollar spent, or
  • You can persuade them to think “what kind of person am I (or aspire to be) and what kind of ______ would that person buy?

Of course, it never hurts to flatter a prospective buyer’s identity by showing him (or her) that her identity-based choices are sensible, wise, and a sign of good taste. It’s not that there’s no place for reason-why appeals, just that they ought to be subordinate to a broader identity-based supposition.

Don’t make the mistake, though, in assuming that identity-based appeals only work for snobby or super lux items. They work just as well when no-nonsense products are advertised for no-nonsense people. Or an icon of rebels appeals to the rebel in all of us. Think craftsman tools or Harley-Davidson motorcycles.


The bottom line: it’s tough making money off of customers determined to squeeze every dollar’s value till George Washington hollers for mercy. Far better to appeal to people who are interested in expressing a value and an identity.

It’s not only where the money is, it’s also where all the satisfaction is for the business owner, as well. I’ve never met a business owner yet, who didn’t want his (or her) business to stand for something.

So what identity are you appealing to?





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