The New Heroes: The desire to be special


In the second of our articles on ‘The New Heroes’ we look at the link between our modern day heroes and the increased desire for personalisation, both driven by our inbuilt desire to feel special.

In the 1960’s the BBC asked people, “Do you think you are important?” At the time 85% of people said, “No”, and 15% said, “Yes”. Last year they repeated the survey and 85% of people now said that they were important. This is a huge cultural shift.

This shift is changing our world fast. From the people we hold up as our heroes, to our desire for personalised products and services. Anything and anyone that reinforces our feeling of specialness is being embraced.

In Hugh Mackay’s excellent book, “What makes us tick?” he argues that today’s greatest human driver is our desire to be taken seriously …to be acknowledged as the unique individual each of us knows ourselves to be – the desire to be noticed, appreciated, valued, accepted … perhaps even remembered.

Whilst this desire may have always been inherent in human nature, it seems like the current generation are the first to be truly shaped by this one desire. We have been raised to believe we can achieve anything, that nothing should hold us back from becoming a unique, successful individual. Add to this our increasing desire to share every success through social media and, in Maslow’s terms, we are moving beyond self-actualisation to becoming famous or recognised for our self-actualisation.

So it is not surprising that we gravitate towards anyone or anything that makes us feel noticed, valued or unique. Why else would so many people brand themselves with ‘unique’ tattoos, or give their children unusual, memorable names? Why else would a Coke can with your name on it take over the world?

Personalisation of previously mass products might seem trivial but, given that it taps into one of our biggest human desires, the appeal should not be underestimated. We are entering the start of a personalised life with music streams, product recommendations and Facebook content already based on our own past behaviour. Not only does this shape product choice, it also shapes the people we trust, admire and respect – our heroes.

Rather than the heroes of old who were put on pedestals and admired from afar, modern day heroes are ‘one of us’. They like what we like, act the way we would like to, and most importantly they make us feel special. Some draw us into their exclusive world with daily tweets that make us feel part of their crew, others let us shape their YouTube content or respond live to our comments.

In a future world that is more personalised, more niche, more unique, the opportunity for each of us to reach the pinnacle and to become ‘recognised for our own self-actualisation’ increases massively. When your world is shaped by a particular niche music genre, art or sport then being the best in this niche makes you a superstar. Suddenly I don’t have to win a Grammy to be become a hero. Being the best Ultimate Frisbee player in the country puts me on the front page of my personalised media world. How’s that for feeling special?!

I believe that marketers have not fully grasped the importance of this behavioural shift. Personalised products are great, but every contact with a consumer has the potential to make them feel special, feel unique or feel important.

So, rather than trying to get people to love our brands, we should be helping people love themselves; and maybe this is the strongest way to build true brand affection.

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