Brand Strategy Video

Brands & Outliers: AI and the Human Experience, The Era of Strong Ties, and Changing Experiences of Gender

insights in culture

Brands & Outliers: AI and the Human Experience, The Era of Strong Ties, and Changing Experiences of Gender

Second-order insights in strategy.

Welcome to our second episode of Brands & Outliers, where our team does a wide sweep of culture and presents every recent finding they think is worth noting.

Culture is going more deep and more human. As the time-space compression of AI becomes more clear, people are grasping for some very specific islands of stability.

One of those islands is the strong tie communities that used to only exist in the fringes, but are now clearly starting to concern platforms like Instagram and TikTok. 

Meanwhile, brands are catering to a fragmenting of human experience, consistent with our projection of High Fidelity Society slowly taking over the world, market by market. New innovations and infrastructures, from TrovaTrip to Asian American malls, aren’t built upon the standard, but rather the exception.

Against this backdrop, the relentless pursuit of optimization is reaching a fever pitch in our gendered spaces, including the rise of T Parties (sort for testosterone parties), male plastic surgery and the quasi-moral discourse around Ozempic. 

And while these forces ensure that we continue to sort ourselves into niche tribes, there is one bastion of social class mixing that stands strong. It is not the church, not the school or the community park, but rather the humble chain restaurant.  

With that in mind, please come and enjoy this delicious buffet of insights. Timestamps of highlights below. 

00:13 AI and the Human Experience

  • 00:17 A solid theory on how the time-space compression of AI is going to have certain psychological effects on people, and the islands of stability we’ll cling to.
  • 03:35 We’re at the peak of the AI hype cycle, but it’s worth remembering that while technology is fast, people are slow.
  • 10:16 Positive uses of AI that can literally change how we know and remember ourselves. 

15:04 The Era of Strong Ties

  • 15:38 We’re posting less on public feeds and sharing more in DMs. 
  • 16:43 Even weak tie networks like TikTok have begun building for depth rather than breadth.
  • 22:35 Brands like TrovaTrip reveal something interesting: one of the best indicators of compatibility between people in real life is if they follow the same influencer.
  • 25:25 A bright spot in the wasteland that is America’s malls: Asian malls are thriving, likely because they are strong centers for community and connection, not just consumption.

26:13 Changing Experiences of Gender and Gender Roles

  • 26:42 “T Parties” (short for testosterone parties), Ozempic and the uptick in male plastic surgery remind us that we used to be able to just live, but now we have to maximize. 
  • 30:06 Women are being priced out of motherhood, and it may pose a problem for aging populations in Europe.
  • 31:53 With the girlboss era being over and nothing to replace it, there’s a gaping hole in the working woman’s narrative.

37:23 Equity and Inclusion, Privacy, Attention and Other Insights

  • 40:52 Big brands are getting into recommerce, working with companies like thredUP and Archive to capture sales in the ever-growing secondhand market. 
  • 44:00 Surveillance chic and “If I go missing” folders are here.
  • 52:46 Olive Garden is a sanctuary of class mixing.
  • 55:57 The semiotics of Halloween. 

Written By
Jasmine Bina​

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Brand Strategy Culture Featured

Invisible Culture


When Moonjuice was founded in 2011 by Amanda Chantal Bacon, it was easy for people (like myself) to dismiss it as out of touch branding. The company’s hero product, Sex Dust, was an adaptogen-laden powder that promised support for “your sex life, sexual arousal, or sexual performance” with a hefty price tag. 

For the uninitiated mainstream, Sex Dust and the many other cosmically branded Moonjuice products like it, seemed like ridiculous promises for ridiculous problems.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that Bacon had tapped into a wellness signal that the rest of us couldn’t hear yet. She understood that a new form of spiritual wellness, which combined performance, supernatural leanings, and alternative health was on the cusp of our collective consciousness. 

That spiritual wellness was invisible culture, and when it surfaced, it became a part of our shared reality. 

Every trend starts as an anomaly: a deviation from the norm that may look like an outlier at first, but actually signals a widespread change that is about to come. 

Companies that spot cultural change before it becomes visible will always have an advantage not only in brand strategy, but also in innovation. The most valuable strategies and innovations have always been predicated on a prediction, and the only predictions that matter are the ones that tell us where culture is headed.

Invisible culture will tell you where people are willing to be pulled. It will reveal what direction they’re inclined to move in, opening a channel of new and viable opportunities that didn’t exist before. 

In their article, “The Power of Anomaly”, authors Martin Reeves, Bob Goodson and Kevin Whitaker explain that finding these invisible changes means looking in the right place at the right time:

“To take advantage of emerging trends, companies must identify them when they are embryonic—not purely speculative, but not yet named or widely known. At that stage the signs will be merely anomalies: weak signals that are in some way surprising but not entirely clear in scope or import.”

The kinds of anomalies that matter in strategy are the ones that show us how people are changing, and this is what my team at Concept Bureau focuses on in our monthly Brands & Outliers meeting. Our goal in that meeting, and throughout all of our work, is to look for changes in three main dimensions: how people feel emotionally, how people behave personally and publicly, and what people believe. 

Emotions, behaviors and beliefs will always lead you to the heart of invisible culture. When any of those three things start to shift, there’s likely an anomaly worth paying attention to.

But how do you find these bleeding edge anomalies and shifts in the first place? The inconvenient answer is that it takes experience. The more you research, pay attention, and learn to think like a strategist, the more you will develop a sixth sense for spotting it.

However, there are some hotspots along the landscape that tend to house invisible culture more than others. They provide dependable signals in categories full of noise, especially in places where there are many stakeholders or competing narratives:

  1. Where categories intersect
  2. Strong tie communities
  3. Dissenting voices

Each of these places reveals different truths, but all of them will give you a pulse on how people are evolving and how they are willing (or wanting) to change.

When a brand understands that, they have permission to create a whole new future for their audience.

#1 Look at the intersection between categories.

The border between your category and another is usually where users are evolving the most. The changes that happen here tend to be step-changes in how people behave. It’s where we see many new norms and behaviors first emerge. 

If you look at the intersection of healthcare and parenting, you see brands like Boram Care (postpartum retreat for moms), Genexa (clean kids medicine), Slumberkins (emotional learning tools for children) and a whole host of influencers, communities and private schools focused on alternative development styles.

All of these point toward more thoughtful care for children, but that’s obvious.

Spotting the real trend requires you to zoom out and look at how people are changing among all of these examples, and when you do that, what you find is a redefinition of the parent.

Parents have become increasingly intuitive about how they raise kids. They don’t look to grandparents for advice, they don’t subscribe to just a single ideology, and the few experts they do wholly subscribe to are usually the ones going against the grain.

Parenting is less about doing what is accepted as right, and more about doing what feels right. Being a parent may have once been an act of well-trodden routines and pathways, but it is increasingly becoming an act of defiance, in both the big things and the little things. Many of the choices a parent makes are in resistance to something they don’t agree with, in exchange for something that is more aligned with their intuition.  

That insight creates new room for new innovations, brands and experiences.

You can do the same at the intersection of any other two categories. It will often be a leading indicator of what is to come.

#2 Watch for changing emotions in strong tie communities

Weak ties historically allowed us to extract value from the peripheries of our networks (think LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter), while strong ties extract value from relationships at the center of our networks (think Patreon, niche Discord groups, online affinity groups, and the proliferation of like minded living communities like Latitude Margaritaville).

While weak ties have been the underpinning of social innovation for the last two decades, strong ties are starting to emerge as the dominant threads of our social fabric.

Strong tie communities are a valuable place to look for the future because they’re typically where culture is most expressed and engaged with. When emotions and feelings begin to turn in these spaces, culture will soon follow. 

We’ve seen this with many of our clients, including strong tie communities in beauty, self-care, education and dating. When emotions started to change in these deep, personal spaces between people, we knew a shift was coming. Emotions shift before people even have the words or the ideas to articulate the change they are experiencing.

Nearly all beverage industry experts attribute the strong rise of non-alcoholic adult beverages to people being more health conscious, more sober-curious, and more willing to substitute alcohol with cannabis. Gen Z goes so far as to call alcohol “Boomer technology”.

The vast majority of research reports cite these same factors over and over again, but they are missing an important change in people’s emotions—a change that can only be seen in the corners of strong tie communities—that explains this phenomenon much better. 

People overall are gathering in more thoughtful ways. They are choosing connective activities like experiential dinners and holidays with chosen family. They’re playing board games and jumping in adult bounce houses. They still gather to drink, but when they do, it’s less in bars and more in the intimacy of their own homes with friends.

They seek more connective social experiences than before, in no small part due to COVID, and aim to engage with others more meaningfully. They want shared experiences that require them to be wholly present. One look at the fanbase that has formed around author Priya Parker’s book Art of Gathering will show you how far people are going today in order to reinvent the common meetup, party or hang in order to emotionally connect. 

These more thoughtful gatherings require us to rethink the concept of alcohol. Yes, we want to be healthier, but we also want more fully immersed, human-to-human interactions. 

This is where many alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage brands will make the mistake of a shallow gesture, believing that adding adaptogenic ingredients or an organic label will be enough to capture this changing mindset, when in fact the trend in lower alcohol consumption is much bigger than obvious health reasons. 

Emotions are taking a sharp turn when it comes to the ways we gather. We come together for different reasons now, and with very different expectations. We expect to change or be changed through our encounters with others. We expect to go deeper and feel something personally. 

Where drinking may have once been a vehicle for helping us lighten up or numb out, it is now a vehicle for settling down and plugging in.

That’s a future signal that any brand—alcoholic or not—can do something interesting with. 

#3 Listen for dissenting stories.

When an idea or story is widely accepted, pay attention to the quiet voices that dissent. By the time that idea is openly resisted, it will be too late to take advantage of the change.

For every story, there is an opposing story that will tell you just as much (if not more) about the direction of invisible culture. Find the unheard stories that counteract our accepted beliefs, find out who is telling those stories and how they are telling them.

When we developed the brand strategy for AI consultancy Prolego in 2021, they faced a unique problem. Their B2B clients wanted to embrace AI in their businesses, but those clients’ B2C customers shared widespread fears of AI’s potential risks. C-suites coveted the AI prowess of TikTok, but feared the AI backlash of Cambridge Analytica. 

It was a different time, before chatGPT, when Alexa smart home assistants and Siri enabled devices were the extent to which most people experienced AI in their daily lives. But even with only these rudimentary forms of AI, the public’s opinion was largely informed by dystopian movies, clickbait headlines, and economic insecurity. 

In our research for Prolego, we discovered a quiet, invisible group of people we called “AI Natives”, and turned our findings into a report called AI Natives Among Us. That report demonstrated a very early signal of invisible culture that has only just come to fruition in the past few months. 

Just as the digital natives who came before them had an innate ability to navigate the internet, AI Natives were defined by their ability to build relationships with the AI around them. They were not merely AI users. They were connected to AI in a way that allowed them to shape AI tools for their own needs, willing to invest in molding AI for their unique way of life.

The widely accepted mainstream story of the time was that AI was a nefarious “other”, but the dissenting story of this audience was that AI was very much a technology that belonged within the human experience. AI Natives didn’t want to see technology, they wanted to feel it, and that distinction perfectly describes the difference between the apps of yesterday and the AI platforms of today.

One AI Native told us, “We’re going on vacation in a month and we’re actually packing my Google Home because I’m so used to telling it things.” A Director at a Fortune 30 healthcare company said, “In a hundred years from now, there probably will be no internet or smartphones, but there will certainly be AI.” 

Most interestingly, after hearing about a company’s investment in AI, nearly half of adults under the age of 45 were more likely to believe the company positively affected society and cared about its customers. AI had a profound halo effect on the perception of a brand among AI Natives.

Their story has quickly proven to be our trajectory. There is still cultural uncertainty and fear, but the once-dissenting story of the AI Native is a clear signal of what is to come. 



The anomalies of invisible culture require us to approach everything we see with an open and nimble mind. The fact is culture is always changing at the edges, always moving in a new direction, and never in a straight line for too long. 

Every brand and innovation that mattered came from an understanding of these changes. 

Not every anomaly will be a true signal, of course, but if you pay attention for long enough, you will start to gain a sense for the kinds of outliers that will regress back to the mean, and the kinds that will change it. 

Keep searching in the places where invisible culture tends to pop up, get a strong feel for how new emotions, behaviors and beliefs bubble at the edges, and gain an advantage in the marketplace.


23: Pain, Sacrifice, and Our New Status Symbols

Brands get lucky once, maybe twice every generation, when the rules of status change and social equity is suddenly up for grabs. Our Concept Bureau Senior Strategist Zach Lamb believes we are in the midst of one of those rare shifts right now, where we are moving from the self-indulgence of conspicuous consumption to the self-denial of what he calls “conspicuous commitment”.

Public figures are devoting themselves to difficult new modalities, diets, spiritual quests, life practices and ideologies. Your friends are going on arduous, painful, yet revelatory, psychedelic retreats. All around us, wellness brands, food brands, medical brands, lifestyle brands tell us that self-denial is the new flex.

No longer are we obsessed with flaunting material possessions and extravagant experiences; instead, we’re witnessing the rise of people showcasing their unwavering dedication to self-work, vulnerability and personal growth.

In a time when nihilism is literally everywhere, when pessimism gets clicks on headlines, when post-capitalist hopelessness is a trending aesthetic on TikTok and every meme deals in absurdity, conspicuous commitment stands out.

In this episode, we also speak with W. David Marx, author of “Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change” who has an alternative view of how status is tied to money more than ever, and what that means for an increasingly flattening culture.

If you deal in any premium or luxury category, this is a must-listen. The ways we seek to distinguish ourselves have dramatically evolved as we prioritize discipline and personal growth over material success.

That means everyone has to play by new rules.

Podcast Transcript

AUGUST 28, 2023

31 min read



Welcome to Unseen Unknown. I’m your host, Jasmine Bina, and right now we are standing in my kitchen. 


It’s late at night and next to me is Jean-Louis, my partner at Concept Bureau and all things in life, and we’re looking at his supplement shelf, which he installed over our coffee machine a while back. There’s all kinds of stuff on here. You’ll see brands like Athletic Greens, Organifi, Vital Proteins, Thorne Research, Pure Encapsulations, and Four Sigmatic, to name a few. And I’ll admit, I have my own lightweight stack of supplements mixed in with the other containers on this shelf. It’s a lot, and everything here has a specific purpose. Okay, so what is all of this stuff?


This is my personal supplement stack.


Okay. I’m looking at many jars, a tincture, something in a little, it looks like a tobacco box. What is this one?


So, this is Shilajit. It’s kind of interesting one, it’s like a tar that you need to kind of melt in hot water. It’s got a lot of good minerals and things. It’s great for your hormone, balance and energy.


What’s this one?


This is a functional mushroom blend. So it has a whole bunch of stuff, turkey tail, lion’s mane, chaga, good all-rounder for a lot of immune stuff, but also for brain health, especially. The lion’s mane is the big one in that one.


I see there’s creatine here and a bunch of other stuff. First, how do you take all of this? How do you ingest? Okay, I’m going to count this. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 substances here. How do you take all of these every day?


So mostly I cram a whole bunch into a couple of drinks. So I have my Athletic Greens with my creatine polyphenols, my D3 and K2 and some fiber. So I’ll have that usually first thing in the morning, and then I’ll have some omega-3 as well. For a lot of the other ones, I cram them into a hot drink. So I’ll mix collagen with my mushroom powder with the Sheila G, and I’ll put some cinnamon in with that and some honey to kind of round out the flavor. It can be quite intense. Then I’ll take some protein as well, and then sometimes I’ll mix some inulin as well in my breakfast.


How much time do you think you spent figuring out this stack and tinkering with it and getting it right? Just ballpark?


Over a dozen hours.


And why? The big question. Why are you doing all this?


I’d like to live to 150 years old. I think if I can be super healthy, I think there’s a very reasonable chance of living to 100, and I think at least by the time I’m 100, the medical advances will at the very least take me the rest of the way there. I feel like that’s a pretty solid bet I’m willing to make. At the very least, I’ll live long, but I’ll be healthy and happy in the meantime. I think that what’s interesting is that right now I’m more focused on how do I feel the most energy, and so it’s kind of been interesting . The problem is that I’m messing with almost too many things at the same time, so it’s hard to tell what’s doing what, but I feel great. I mean, I exercise, all of those other things too. But yeah.



Living to 150 years old is ambitious, but it’s also optimistic. Jean-Louis is part of a massive community of people who are committed to this goal, “committed” being the operative word. Zach Lamb, who is our senior strategist at Concept Bureau, recently wrote an article about how conspicuous commitment is the next era of status, and that’s what today’s episode is about. In a time when nihilism is literally everywhere, when pessimism gets clicks on headlines, when post capitalist hopelessness is a trending aesthetic on TikTok and every meme deals in absurdity, committing to something optimistic stands out. Think about it. We have public figures devoting themselves to difficult new modalities, diets, spiritual quests, life practices and ideologies. Your friends are going on arduous, painful, yet revelatory, psychedelic retreats. All around us, wellness brands, food brands, medical brands, lifestyle brands tell us that self-denial is the new flex. No longer are we just obsessed with flaunting material, possessions and extravagant experiences.



Instead, we’re witnessing the rise of people showcasing their unwavering dedication to self-work. Status is moving from the indulgence of conspicuous consumption to the self-denial of conspicuous commitment. Zach argues that the more you commit to the difficult and the fearsome and the hard one, the more you signal this new form of prestige. That’s a huge deal for brands. The meaning of status hasn’t changed for generations, but now that it is, everyone has to play by new rules. But before we get to Zach’s prediction on where status is headed, let’s consider an alternative point of view, more grounded in where it is today. I spoke with W. David Marx, the author of Status and Culture: How our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change. David sees a social hierarchy that has become increasingly global, increasingly based on wealth, and increasingly flattening the texture of society.



W. David:
It is a position in a hierarchy, and it could be a local group, it could be all of society, but as you move up in this hierarchy, you receive better social benefits. So people treat you better and you get more esteem. And esteem is kind of the anchor for that hierarchy. So I think we all know that this is a nice thing to have esteem, but psychologists have found recently in a lot of work and research that it’s a fundamental human desire. So more or less, every human being desires some level of status. So then when you ask about the history, what you’re really asking about is, over time, how has it changed that these hierarchies are created and what is the criteria in which they’re based? And you could probably go back to some sort of tribal society 10,000 years ago where you have a very small tribe and there may be a bloodline in which the leader is the leader.



And then you move to the Middle Ages and aristocracy and so you have a society in which the church and the king and very formal, rigid feudal systems have made it where the hierarchy is completely and utterly rigid so that you cannot really move up and down. I think the big change came probably dated to the French Revolution, but more or less with the rise of the bourgeoisie and capitalism, suddenly everybody can make their own destiny and having more and more money moves you up. And so we now live more or less in a world in which that social hierarchy is created by money. But the other interesting thing is we live in a very plural society, which you can have subcultures. And the way I talk about subcultures and countercultures in the book are these are status groups and status hierarchies based on different criteria than money. The kind of historical stage that we’ve been in, especially the 20th century, is yes, we’ve moved away from these categories where it’s, you’re kind of born into status and you always have it, you have to make it for yourself, and money really really helps there.


At the same time, there’s all these kind of offshoots and subcultures that are growing in stature. So suddenly you’re not just an outcast for being in a subculture, but you could actually be cooler than people in the so-called mainstream by being in these groups. And now in the 21st century, I’ve been thinking a lot about what is happening and subcultures have weakened. They’ve grown in strength in the sense that more people are into subcultural type things, but being in a subculture itself provides less value. And it seems like this massive social hierarchy, which is more globalized and more expansive than ever, is really focused more on money than ever before. And there is a status taboo. We don’t talk about it. It’s not supposed to exist in an egalitarian, democratic society. We’re not supposed to have these hierarchies. We see status much more as caste systems and feudal systems and things that we all got rid of.


And good, great, now we live in a place where everybody makes their own status. And of course there are things like sexism and racism, which are old hierarchies that have still been imposed on this society where we’re supposed to be able to make our own way, and we can’t. And money, as much as we don’t want it to be the thing that determines the hierarchy, it just does. I mean, we live in a capitalist society. My book is just trying to more or less say, culture seems mysterious when you force yourself not to look at the main thing that is driving it. So if you say, “Okay, we’re going to write about culture and why it changes, but we can’t look at status, because that would be rude,” then everything’s just total nonsense. And fashion makes no sense. And the ways we contort ourselves to tell stories about fashion trends is just ridiculous because the explanations for fashion when you take away status makes zero sense.


It’s just chaotic and things just become big randomly. It’s like that’s not how it works at all. And this idea of virality is completely ridiculous. And so the book is just saying, look, status exists. We don’t want it to exist, but here are the rules of how it works. And if you just line these things up and extrapolate from why a human being wants status, which is a very logical thing to want because it makes your life better, and the way people behave in pursuit of it in different ways, because not everybody’s saying, I want status, therefore I’m going to buy a Lamborghini. There’s many ways to do it and people in many groups, but if you just look at this, you’ll pretty much understand the origin of most of the cultural practices in society. And I just find that really helpful because ultimately, I’m interested in what is culture, where does it come from? Where’s it going, what is it doing? And unless you understand this status component of it, it’s just nonsense.


When I read this in the book, I was asking myself as well, why is there such a taboo around status? Why does it feel like such a risk to actually talk about this thing? Which according to you, is kind of like the driving force behind culture.


W. David:
I think it’s changing a little bit. I watch a lot of TikTok videos, and maybe it’s because they’re like 16 year old kids, but there’s all these kids who’ve made money in dubious ways who have sitting on the hoods of all the Mercedes-Benz as they bought their parents or whatever, and they’re just like, “Yeah, if you’re 17 and you don’t own four luxury cars, you’re a failure.” So there’s this change where this principled detachment, I think, is getting much weaker. This kind of gentleman’s agreement not to talk about status has been lost on this new generation coming up that doesn’t have much connection to the old culture and is finding ways through the internet to make money on their own. So that may get weaker over time and people may hide it a little bit less, but I think they’re also very unlikely to talk about status too, because if you have status, it’s a very uncool thing to talk about status. So then it means the people who we hear from most and have most influence are never talking about it.


Okay, but aren’t people just finding, let’s say, the TikTok generation, aren’t they just finding new ways of asserting status, just new codes, new languages, new images and symbols where for them it’s maybe not so much about the money, but about being part of a special class that knows the rules?


W. David:
Yes. I mean, that’s always been true. And the thing I noticed is simply how fast the information that is privileged information that gives you status as a teenager is devalued. If you’re on TikTok, the way that trends move is so fast that you know how to use this audio to make a video, and then you get a bunch of likes for it. And then within a week or so, everyone’s done it and it’s passe. And so the degree to which, let’s just call this a whole thing memes, but do you get a status for being a master meme maker and knowing what’s the right meme to make a joke about? Probably. But the question I have is, is that status you’re getting from meme manipulation very valuable? And also doesn’t it require just constant refresh? So you’re right that there is this group, but I don’t know how valuable that is on a global level.


And again, these are really important concepts for understanding status, but in your local group, you have a local status. So just think about if you’re at a rural high school and you are the captain of the basketball team, maybe you are a local star, but on a global stage, nobody knows who you’re and nobody cares. And so global status is how people perceive your position on a larger scale. And what is interesting to me is TikTok and YouTube in particular are massively popular platforms that everybody knows have replaced television and other forms of media, and yet they have all these stars that are very big locally within those worlds. But I keep thinking about have those stars crossed over to mainstream society? And if you look at ads for Louis Vuitton, they’re still using models and movie stars. No one watches movies, cinema’s in crisis, and yet Brad Pitt is this spokesperson for these brands, and not TikTok stars.


W. David:
So there is status being generated locally, probably not yet globally. I know that will change, and I’m kind of waiting for that moment. It’ll be very interesting. But I’m passionate about there are people who understand these things and there are people who don’t, and the people who understand them are much more successful in life, and this information is hidden to people and it is hidden from people. And the more that these ideas become common knowledge, the more the system changes and the more we can take control of it. And so I am passionate about, this knowledge is not equally distributed, and it should be. Every high school should have a class that teaches people about the sociology of status because they’re living it. I mean, high school kids live it more than anyone else, and they just think it’s like, this is the nature of the world, and if I’m uncool, then it’s something wrong with me.


And it’s like, you’ve got to understand how this works. And so I deeply believe that we should move towards an egalitarian society, and you can’t do that unless you see where the stratification exists. Unless you perfectly understand the stratification, you can’t get rid of it. The second is, and I do write this in the book because the whole book, I’m like, “I have no opinions about this. This is just the way it works.” But at the end it’s like, fine, I’ll have two opinions, which is if we could have lots of hierarchy or little, I think a little is much better, and we should move towards that and understand the ways that personally we replicate and we reproduce the status structures in our own behaviors. So that’s number one. Number two is, culture should be more exploratory, experimental, interesting, more complex. And complexity is good for the ecosystem in general because it trickles down and it makes even simple things more interesting.


So all of this leads us to where we are today, a world in need of transparency and perhaps even more importantly, exploration and complexity, a world with more dimension where status is not solely derived from money, but from creation, experimentation and ingenuity. This is where Zach’s idea of conspicuous commitment comes in. What Zach sees is a new social code around status that affords us this kind of dimension that untethers us a little bit from wealth and moves us toward creation of the self where it’s not about what you have, but what you are committing yourself to. And it rings surprisingly optimistic.


With conspicuous commitment, the flex that I’m pointing at in the article is the hard work that you’re doing on yourself mentally and physically. That’s what we’re really trying to show off now. It’s not like, “Look at all these possessions that I have. Look at all these things,” or, “Look at all these experiences that I’m going out and collecting and then sharing on Instagram or TikTok.” And it’s not your virtue signaling, like I’m this kind of person with these kinds of values and beliefs. No, it’s what am I doing to train my mind and my body that makes me into a certain kind of person and shapes me in a way that’s self-directed, that I’m choosing. And I found a meme on Twitter the other day that really encapsulates what I’m talking about. It says, “Become a ghost for six months. Find the beast within you. Throw yourself into pain. Cut out all the excuses. Go all in on yourself, train like a warrior, work like a robot, eat like a king, reject vices, transform, upgrade, create, thrive, win.”


Right? It’s super serious. From the outside, it’s easy for us to laugh at this, but if somebody’s on the inside, they’re deeply committed to this project of self-transformation and self-betterment, and it feels like that. So 50 years ago, you’d see somebody jogging through your neighborhood and you’d be like, “What is going on? This is really, really weird. What are you running from?” That’s the joke. But we’re so far from that now. This is such deep whole being training, being, mind and body. That’s what I’m really trying to capture with this new evolution in status, showing that off, that change in that training that you’re doing for yourself.


I feel like I’ve definitely heard conspicuous commitment on social a lot, but what are some of the hallmarks of conspicuous commitment that make it what it is?


There’s four main hallmarks. The first one is isolation. Make no mistake, this is all about me. It’s very me focused. I’m not trying to change the world. I don’t have a socially altruistic angle here. I’m merely trying to better myself. At the end of the day, this is all about me, individual, isolated. And the second one is challenge. You’re setting up challenges. You’re putting obstacles in your way so that you can overcome them and transcend them on this path that you’re on. Society isn’t giving you these obstacles. They’re not part of the normative development of how we grow and move through life. No, you’re putting these obstacles deliberately in your way so you can experience what it feels like to overcome this challenge. The third one, I kind of alluded to already, earnestness. We can laugh at this stuff, but it’s no joke. It’s very serious.


It’s almost anti-nihilistic. This is a deep meaning system that this person on this commitment path really believes in. And the last hallmark is devotion. I think this is the one that’s most interesting to me because it’s so religious. It feels, this stuff, when you engage with it, it feels like there’s zealotry. There’s a religiosity and a religiousness to this. The word I used in the article a lot is asceticism to describe this. I just love that word because it’s beautiful and it’s got all these religious connotations about self-sacrifice for a higher purpose. That’s what it feels like if somebody’s on this path of commitment.


To me, this feels like a big deal because I don’t know the last time that we ever discussed as a culture when the meaning of status was up for grabs, when we were going through a shift in what it actually means to have and attain status. I mean, is this really a fundamental shift? Am I over emphasizing here, or is it really this big?


No, it’s really this big. And I think to understand why and to feel why it’s this big, just briefly how we got here. The last 10 years, we all know it’s been crazy. We had a big breakdown in shared visions, shared norms, even shared realities in a lot of cases. Reality tunnels is the phrase I like to use to describe just how different worlds that we’re living in. Status doesn’t work in that context, right? Status is predicated on shared belief, shared buy-in. We all have to want the same thing. We have to be moving through life in the same way. So all that went out the window and we don’t have anything to anchor on anymore because we’ve also lost faith in all of our progress narratives. That explains a lot of the nihilism that you see in culture. People just don’t believe generally that a rising tide is going to lift all boats.


They look at things like inequality, racism, sexism, all these things. And there’s so many reasons to turn away from society and say, “That’s not working. This isn’t going to make me better. I can’t have faith and buy into the system. I’ve got to figure it out for myself.” So there’s just this sense of tragic optimism where my life prospects are just not going to be as great as they once were, so what am I going to do about it? And so in that context, believing in a positive future for yourself, committing to something, really stands out, right? Because nobody’s doing it. Culture at large is sort of mired in these negative things. But if somebody really commits and stands out positively, well, that’s going to confer status. That’s kind of how we got here.


So it is a pretty big shift. We’re really reckoning with the social changes and cultural changes of the last decade or so. And commitment really provides the order that we’re craving. Now, if you are somebody that commits to a project of self-improvement in the ways that we’ve been talking about, it really tidies the house. It shores up your meaning systems. It gives you order over chaos. It gives you direction and guidance. I started this research thinking I was going to write about brands offering personhood in a box, like, “Here’s a way to be a person in this crazy world.” But then I realized I was actually touching on something much, much bigger, which was this fundamental status shift.


So you’re saying because optimism is such a limited good, that really is the new luxury, is to be able to have something to be optimistic about. And conspicuous commitment is a way of committing to or displaying that sense of optimism that you have in your life, right?


100%. Because if the rest of us are kind of mired in nihilism or trolling or laughing at structures and institutions, but not building anything constructively, people that are doing something optimistically that say, “I think things can get better and I’m going to make them better for myself,” that is a big shift. Not everybody sounds like that. It’s kind of rare, sadly.


Yeah. Where are you seeing conspicuous commitments show up most in the market, in the real world? What brands are really tapping into this? I feel like I can kind of see it in wellness from the examples you’ve given, but where is it showing up the most right now?


There’s three main areas. There’s biohacking wellness, alt wellness. That’s a big one. Really exciting new one is longevity and even immortality, as the AI has kind of entered the chat. Like, how are we going to maybe live forever through the use of AI? That’s another. And then lastly, of course, new buzzy therapies, particularly psychedelics. But there’s a lot of new kinds of group therapies. Those are really ripe for going inward. And of course to myself, you can’t go more inward than a trip. So all of these areas, I think my favorite brand in this space, Heroic. I would encourage everybody to check it out. They call themselves a self-mastery platform that combines ancient wisdom and modern science to equal your best self. And, “We train heroes,” is what they say. And forging anti-fragile confidence, master yourself, as I was checking them out, literally step one of their processes is called Commit.


And they say you’re on a path of Heroic commitment and they’re going to guide you through every step of the way. And what’s really ripe about them and interesting is they’re not shy about saying this is individual change first, for social change. So they reference social change, but they say social change is only going to come from a bunch of heroes out there, a bunch of people controlling their own, mastering themselves. So then when you’re doing that you can show up better in all the ways that if you’re in therapy, the therapist will tell you, “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” Heroic is really embracing that, and the world needs you to be your most heroic. For every company I will mention, there’s like 1,000 influencers or podcasters that are touching this space as well. So you can find your flavor of any one of these companies no matter where you are.


Another one is Wim Hof, or “breathology”, self-transcendence via breathing. I just love, it’s a gym membership, mindfulness coach and health insurance all rolled into one, through cold plunging and breath. But it’s a system. It’s like why it works is it’s a totalizing system for controlling the world, controlling the chaos, being a person and being a thing. Another one is HigherDOSE. I really think that they’re interesting. They’re a biohacker, collective biohackers, emphasis on the “her”s. Why they’re really innovative in the market is because biohacking has traditionally been such a masculine space and there hasn’t been a female presence in biohacking. And they’re really leading that. And there’s nothing too esoteric for them. They’re doing it all. And what’s really cool about their brand is they’re producing so much content of them experiencing all these things. Like I said, there’s nothing too weird. Ecstatic dance, Kambo frog venom poisoning, sound vibration, biofeedback psychedelics, sweat lodges, cold immersion.


They’re doing it all, but with the emphasis on the female body. And that’s a really refreshing intervention in the biohacking space. And so they’re really popular for that, just highlighting the role that women are playing and they’re playing a big thought leadership role in this space.


HigherDOSE though, they’re the sauna blankets, right?




Okay. That’s their main product, but they have all this really high level conspicuous commitment content that just transcends that product, right?


Well, yes, 100%. And I’m glad you kept me honest and pointed that out, because I got enamored with the content, but at the end of the day, they’re selling infrared light therapies and these blankets. Yes, exactly.


Yes, yeah. Okay, cool.


And I would be remiss not to mention Blueprint, which is Bryan Johnson’s project to live forever. A lot of people mock Bryan Johnson, but it is the quintessential example of conspicuous commitment. He’s saying, “I’m making a big bet. Criticize me if you want. This is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to reverse-age myself so I can be the same biological age as my son.” I have some of his language here just because it’s fantastic. And again, it’s the language of commitment. “The enemy is entropy. The path is goal alignment via building your autonomous self.” Again, the emphasis on the self. “Enabling compounded rates of progress to bravely explore the zero-width principle future, and play Infinity Games.” He’s very serious about… But I don’t even know what Infinity Games are, but I’d love to play them.


I’m not laughing at Bryan Johnson. I actually really admire what he’s doing. But the language, you’re right, it makes your head spin a little bit. Okay.


Yep, yep. But what’s cool is that it is just commitment to extreme progress into the deep future. And again, it’s offering a new narrative. It’s a hopeful narrative, really. If you are buying into it, it’s giving you optimism, it’s giving you hope, it’s giving you something to work towards. And I think that’s a really refreshing space. And then just lastly, I’d touch on the status therapies. Like I already mentioned, psychedelics are the perfect tool for going inward, not outward. I think we all thought at one point in culture, we were telling all these stories of galactic expansion. That’s how we were going to learn. That’s how everything was going to be different. We were going to be a species in like space colonization. That’s still in the thread of culture, but with conspicuous commitment and all these other cultural changes, we’re really turning the microscope back in.


And there’s a hierarchy in psychedelics as well. Did you take mushrooms with your buddies or did you do a hero’s dose with a blindfold at a field trip location in a major city? Or did you take ayahuasca in Peru? There’s these stages. There’s a cool ladder of psychedelics, but we’re all doing the work, right? And if not psychedelics, it’s some buzzy new therapies. Like Every Man For Men, I know you’ve written about Every Man in the past as this great company that’s spotlighting men’s mental health through the loneliness epidemic. Peoplehood is another one. We’re all lonely. We need a new way of being and relating in the world. And another favorite of mine, Chill Pill for Generation Z. I can’t get on the app. I tried. They said, “You’re too old. You can only get on this app if you are a certified member of Gen Z.” So if you’re not doing the work, if you’re not in therapy, increasingly daters say they don’t want to date you. That’s just how entrenched this doing the work notion of commitment is showing up.


But I’m going to be honest, these sound like the easy ones. Of course it’s going to be in wellness, of course, it’s going to be in self-help. Of course it’s going to be in psychedelics. How do you see it getting outside of the confines of wellness? Can conspicuous commitment show up in other ways, in other places?


Totally. Commitment is really suitable for finance, wellness, food, athletics, any sort of hobby pursuit where there’s an element of mastery. Think about it. If your category is such that somebody can get better at something, then why can’t commitment enter into the picture? And I think it looks like for those kinds of companies that it’s like brand activations and brand experiences that give people rituals, help them feel that they’re going from point A to point B, that things are changing in their life. You’re offering them a journey. You’re framing your experience and your product as a journey of transformation is one way to make it feel like you’re committing to something. And another, you can give people opportunities to experience new kinds of discipline. Every brand out there and generally in culture for the last 20 years, easy, easy, easy. We want to make things as easy as possible and eliminate as much friction as possible.


But conspicuous commitment says friction is good. I want to overcome the friction. So if you’re a brand that says, “We’re not easy, we’re difficult, but worth it,” that helps you stand out and it gives people something to believe in and buy into. That feels like commitment. And if you give them tools of introspection, everybody loves that. Well, that’s all ripe too. But I think generally commitment gives you a playbook of mastery. That’s what you’re trying to do. Just help people master themselves through the domain of the thing that you’re doing to commit to it and to improve.


Okay. So I’m going to ask you what probably most people listening to this are thinking in their heads, which is, is this not just the pastime of people who have tragically too much money and too much time on their hands?


Yes and no. I mean, status has to work like that. We have to aspire to it. It has to come from somewhere. But this is really trickled down. You will see this on your Instagram feed, your TikTok feed. You’ll see many versions of this. If you’re looking for it, you’ll start to go like, “I’m shocked after writing the article. Oh, yep, that’s commitment. That’s commitment.” It pops up everywhere, and there’s a flavor of commitment for everybody. Maybe you’re not able to do the full Blueprint method, but you listen to Andrew Huberman and you’re taking lots of supplements and really buying into a dopamine hacking lifestyle. So it’s like there’s a scale and a degree that is there for everybody, but there are elites that are leading this for sure.


So how do you see this continuing to evolve? What are the variables that will determine the course that conspicuous commitment takes over the next few years?


I just love John Vervaeke’s work on the meaning crisis, and a lot of cultural commentators are talking about it. We’re all looking for meaning, all the old sense-making ways that we used to make sense of the world have broken down. So what are we going to do about it? So conspicuous commitment is that response. It’s like, I’m going to impose my own kind of meaning. So it’ll be interesting to see how the meaning crisis continues to play out. Is society going to get more equal with AI? Is it going to get more unequal? We don’t know. I think that’s a variable here too. Most people agree that universal basic income is coming, it’s just a matter of when. And I think that conspicuous commitment is really interesting in that context because theoretically, as more of us get universal basic income, the playing field levels a little bit, I think then commitment gets really, really important.


It’s like, it’s not what are you buying with your money. It’s like, what are you doing with yourself, with your time? How are you making yourself a better person with the time that you have that you didn’t have before? Because we didn’t have UBI. So I think we’re going to spotlight commitment as UBI comes onto the scene. I think that that’s likely for sure. Another way to project this into the future, I think that’s with interesting context is we’re in the area of dupes now. We don’t really care to have the original. Increasingly, it doesn’t matter. I’ve called it product flows, right? Yeah. If you’re not buying the original luxury item, there’s 18 different versions along the spectrum that look just like it increasingly that are undistinguishable, and I can just buy a piece of that at whatever price range I’m at.


So consumption is increasingly going to lose its ability to sort of set us apart and confer status when we can all kind of have the same thing. If I don’t have the original Yeezy sneaker, I’ve got the $20 Temu version that you can’t tell the difference. I also saw something recently, I think it was Jennifer Aniston spends $200,000 a year on her body. These are things you can’t fake. The body, the mind can’t be faked, can’t be duped. So they’re going to stand out even more.


And I’m left wondering, where do you engage in conspicuous consumption in your own life? I don’t think you’re above it. I don’t think any of us are above it, right? We’re all status seeking. Where does it show up for you?


Yeah, I dabble. I’m less conspicuous and less committed than I would like to be. I’m waiting to get my foot on the ladder. I dabble in all the little wellness practices I mentioned. I have done Kambo, the psychedelic frog poisoning. That was fun. But I consume more than I commit. That’s the thing. Commitment is anti-consumption, really. It’s like you’re saying, I’m going to do this thing. I’m going to produce, I’m going to act, I’m going to create something or shape myself to be something, not consume passively. And I know personally, I just love sitting down and reading. I guess if I could commit to anything, it’s that. And even as technology evolves, we’re leaving the era of the rectangle and entering the era of wearable tech. Think about how much more seductive every mode of consumption is about to become. It’s going to get so much harder to commit to something because it’s going to be so much easier to just numb out and consume.


And that’s what I’m guilty of for sure. And I know I’m not alone. So many of us are like that. So I think as we end, that’s another future way to take this too. As we leave rectangles, go to wearable tech, it’s just going to be harder to commit and a commitment is going to stand out even more. So summing it up, UBI equals more commitment. Dupes can equal more commitment. We’re really at the beginning of this era of commitment. It’ll be fascinating to see how brands respond and provide them the meaning systems that they’ve been seeking.


Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Unseen Unknown. If you’re new here and like what you’re listening to, do us a favor and subscribe and leave a review. Those reviews mean a lot and help our audience grow. And don’t forget, you can always get more of our brand strategy and culture, articles, videos, podcasts, all of it at And while you’re there, you can also sign up for our awesome newsletter that will deliver valuable thinking to your inbox twice a month. My team is publishing some pretty amazing stuff based on the work that we’re doing with our amazing clients, including the article that this podcast episode was based on, which by the way, is linked in the show notes. And I promise it will be the best strategy newsletter you ever get. Thanks for listening. We’ll catch you next time.


Interesting Links & More Reading

Brand Strategy Featured Psychology

Bridging The Identity Gap


Brands exist in the space between how people perceive themselves and how they behave.

Our self-perceptions are the building blocks of our reality, and when the way we act doesn’t measure up to who we believe we are, it feels very uncomfortable. Oftentimes it’s the kind of pain that we will do nearly anything to resolve.

All brands are vehicles for closing this gap. The bigger the gap the bigger the cognitive dissonance, and the bigger the opportunity for the brand.

Eight Sleep is a premium bed cooling and sleep monitoring system made for professional athletes, but that’s not their core audience.

Think of the average person who has bought into hustle culture, or is on the wellness fastrack, or is an entrepreneur, or generally sees themselves as a leader. Their self-perceptions hinge on their ability to be productive, and if those people struggle and fail to get out of bed at 5am over and over again in order to have a productive day, or if they struggle to focus, or if they don’t treat their bodies like the hardware to their mental software, then their identity is threatened.

These people are not the elite athletes that Eight Sleep was designed for, but they are the performance-minded people that Eight Sleep’s brand captures. They pay for Eight Sleep not only in high cost, but also in the time it takes to rearrange their bedrooms and the commitment it takes to learn and use the app over time.

People pay these high costs because they are not merely solving for sleep. They are solving for their cognitive dissonance. The one thing they want (or perhaps need) more than rest is to feel like they are performing at a level that matches their self-perceptions.

Eight Sleep website, 8/14/2023

Strong brands have cognitive dissonance at their core. They understand that while the product may solve a real-world problem, the brand is solving a much more valuable identity problem.

Social psychology identifies three ways to solve for cognitive dissonance. Each pathway gets us from a state of high dissonance (discomfort and pain), to a state of lower dissonance (comfort, ease). Each one speaks to different user needs in a market, and has its own challenges and opportunities.

1. Change belief – Change one’s beliefs to be more aligned with one’s actions.

2. Change action – Change one’s actions to be more aligned with one’s beliefs.

3. Change action perception – Rationalize or justify the difference between one’s beliefs and one’s actions.

Each of these three pathways shrinks the gap between someone’s identity and behaviors, and thus lowers their cognitive dissonance.

However, I’ve seen a fourth pathway emerge that not only works, but is indicative of where successful brands are headed over the next few years.

4. Adapt action – Change the outcomes of one’s actions to be more aligned with one’s beliefs.

In this fourth pathway, people get to enjoy lowered cognitive dissonance without the labor of changing their beliefs or actions, nor the mental gymnastics of changing the perception of their actions.

Each pathway is uniquely suited to a certain kind of market problem, and a certain kind of solution.

The four pathways to solve for cognitive dissonance

Most brands fail to recognize the true cognitive dissonance they are up against, and then either take the wrong pathway or take none at all. For brand owners, CEOs and investors, these pathways also reveal the durability of a brand, namely its ability to continue serving a significant need for customers even as competitor brands put pressure on the marketplace.

You can study your user inside and out, but if you don’t know the cognitive dissonance that shapes them, then you don’t know how to build a brand that will serve them.

Change Belief

Many brands are limited by a pervading belief in the minds of their users. A bias like “Only rich people buy art” or “Vegans are weak” will keep someone in a high state of dissonance when in fact they do appreciate fine artwork or care about their health. These biases will also keep them from buying the painting or trying the plant-based restaurant.

Dissonance that comes from biases oftentimes explains why your audience may have the means and resources to convert, but instead chooses to spend that money somewhere else. They’re usually spending it where they feel less cognitive dissonance (in this case it might be new furniture or the gym).

The unique thing about this specific pathway for relieving cognitive dissonance is that new information or ideas, education and exposure are not what change beliefs. To change our beliefs we must change our identities.

People resist changing their beliefs because in some part, it means losing a sense of self. Belief and identity are so deeply intertwined that when people change their religions, their partners, their jobs, their diets or their politics, they often describe the shift as leaving an old version of themselves behind.

We can’t change our minds until we are able to see ourselves as new people. We have to be able to grasp what this new identity looks, feels and thinks like.

In their “In Case of Adventure” series, Rivian is selling a car, but also selling a new identity. When people wonder to themselves, “Who buys a Rivian?” the answer will be clear: the urban adventurer. This identity clearly pops up in Rivian’s content, testimonials, gear shop and PR.

Rivian’s “In Case Of Adventure” series, 7/25/2023

It’s a move straight out of the premium vehicle playbook. Porche’s home & lifestyle line, Mercedes-Benz’s coffee lounges and Harley Davidson’s community pilgrimages (which I’ve written about before) are all methods for signaling the identity of the driver.

When you give people a sense of new identity, it’s easier for them to drop their biases and change their beliefs. They can be more certain about who they are and how they should move through the world.

I’ve seen this dissonance pathway a lot in B2B as well. In our research with high performing B2B salespeople over the years, we’ve seen brands like Gong emerge as preferred platforms not because of their technology (in this case a sales intelligence platform) but because of how they celebrate a new identity of the salesperson. Gong exalts salespeople as bold and passionate heroes. The Gong user has a clear identity.

This pathway to solving cognitive dissonance is well suited for brands that face strong biases, which may sound like “A person like me can’t do things like that” or “People who do that look like this.”

These biases explain why many food and foodtech brands have failed in the market, despite innovative products. Surprisingly, food is highly personal and identity driven. What we eat is a big part of how we see ourselves in the world.

Change Action

When a category of users can be characterized by having fear, apprehension or even shame that holds them back from doing something, there is likely a pent up demand for new behavior.

People who are stuck in this form of cognitive dissonance don’t necessarily need to change their beliefs. Instead, they need to change their actions, and that typically only happens when there is enough psychological safety to try something new.

The explosion of kidult play — adults playing with kids toys — is a great example of brands creating enough psychological safety to change a behavior that has been historically limited by shame or fear of judgment. Brands like Lego have created inviting, thoughtful and safe environments for adults to engage in play — so much so that adult fandoms are propelling Lego’s revenue and market to unprecedented levels.

Adult-themed product extensions, research on the adult-child relationship in play, and deep adult Lego communities and conventions give this consumer the psychological safety they need to turn what may be considered a childish hobby into a valid and rewarding adult experience.

Today’s adult Happy Meals, adults-only bouncy houses and the Barbie movie were perhaps a natural response to the joyless years of Covid, but they are also all branded efforts to make play more of a safe zone for adults.

There are other brands, however, that have failed to create the same kind of psychological safety for their adult fans and are likely missing out on a valuable segment. In a recent Washington Post article, a 27-year-old referred to as “Nick” divulged his obsession with Squishmallows (which are round pastel-colored plushies) on condition of anonymity because he was fearful of losing his job if his employer found out. Meanwhile, a Today Show post about the kidult craze drew especially harsh criticism that revealed just how severely our culture continues to judge adults who play with toys.

Some of the replies to @TODAYshow’s tweet about the kidult craze, 12/20/2022

The cognitive dissonance gap may be narrowed in Lego’s corner of the market, but it is wide and thriving in other areas where shame still overshadows play for adults. That is a clear opportunity for brands who are willing to invest in branding, positioning and product innovation that creates psychological safety for their users.

Over in the sexual health category, Dame creates psychological safety through high quality product design and calming, artistic visual branding that stands in great contrast to the salacious and bawdy brands of most competitor companies.

The repeated message of “for women by women” also creates a kind of psychological safety that is sorely missing from this market — one that removes the male gaze from the conversation. Dame is a safe space for women to explore desire without the shame, stigma or limiting beliefs that usually govern their shopping habits. However, even more importantly, Dame matches the self-perception of a huge user base that rarely sees themselves reflected in other brands.

Change Action Perception

There are times when the barriers to changing action are so high, even psychological safety won’t likely work. In those instances, changing the perception of the action may be the strongest way forward.

Parents, especially new mothers, are a prime example of what happens when there is high dissonance between how someone perceives their identity, and the nearly impossible actions it will take to live up to that perception.

New mothers have new identities, usually shaped and informed by shiny Instagram mommy influencers and long-held narratives about a mother’s role in the world. But I have seen in my research with parenting brands over the last 10 years that the vast majority of these same mothers simply cannot make their actions match this new identity, no matter how hard they try.

In early motherhood, women are reborn themselves. With a new baby and a new perspective, they often start new businesses or careers. This generation of mothers is also the first to not look to their own mothers for guidance on the motherhood journey, opting instead to educate themselves and form their own intuition (no small feat). They are also highly concerned with reversing the parenting mistakes they experienced as children. In short, new mothers today want to grow themselves as they grow their families.

But the truth of the matter is that they do not have the resources. They do not have the tribe, the money, the support systems or the time to live into this exceptionally demanding new identity. They will have to make heart-wrenching compromises between themselves and their babies nearly every single day, and in this quiet suffering, they further cement the dissonance they are trying to run away from.

The right path forward for brands in this space is to change the perception of the action, and in order to do that, brands must create a movement and/ or a community.

Boram is an interesting new concept in early motherhood care that changes the script around parenting. Described as a ‘postnatal retreat’, the all-inclusive center offers 5-star accommodations, a 24/7 care team of doctors and clinicians who help people ease into motherhood while teaching them the mountain of skills and knowledge they will need when taking the baby home. This all happens within a routine of nourishing chef-prepared meals, massage services, night nurse coverage and recovery support.

Boram’s website, 8/15/2023

The vast majority of mothers who don’t make it to Boram will not experience a single one of these things in the usual postnatal experience.

Boram isn’t about luxuries. It’s about honoring the integrity of a woman who has just given birth. It may not be for everyone, but it is possibly the beginning of a new movement that centers the mother and her health, surrounding her with a community of care.

In this experience, mothers who want to live up to their new self-perceptions are not forced into failure. They are lifted into possibility. The cognitive dissonance between who they want to be and their actions toward that identity is greatly lowered in the crucial, early days postpartum.

While mothers may be a self-aware group, an important thing to remember with this pathway is that the user in other categories may not always understand, or even be aware of, their hidden desires. Norms and social conditioning can make them out of touch with their own needs, despite how high the underlying cognitive dissonance may be. You might even find that the higher the cognitive dissonance, the greater the self-denial.

If you do discover a high, invisible dissonance, community is especially important. Communities have specific rules, which I have written about before, but the most important rule is to know why you gather.

A former client in the bath and candle space had a unique user base of middle-America women that were especially obsessed with the company’s jewel candles: large theme-scented candles that melted down over a number of hours to reveal a piece of jewelry hidden inside. Users loved the scents and candle jars, and really loved collecting the silver gemstone rings, earrings and necklaces that were buried under the wax.

It was always assumed that these users saw their candles as a luxury, or fun pastime, but as we got deeper into our conversations, we realized that there were a lot of strong emotions tied up with the experience. Users would save for weeks to buy special drops, with the company seeing a spike in sales on payday every month. People traded candles and jewels, traveled with other fans, and most interestingly would use the candles while taking a bath in a locked bathroom.

What we came to learn was that many of their customers were dealing with incredibly stressful events, either from physical disability, stressful jobs, or personal circumstances. They may have thought the candles were frivolous purchases, but they used them very seriously. They saw them as stress-relieving tools that made them happy, and after a scented candle-lit bath, also made them feel whole again. It was the most sincere form of self-care: finding a small way to care for their own emotional needs.

But when we asked them directly about it, the idea of candles as self-care seemed completely alien. Self-care was something they felt they had no business investing in, and yet, that was exactly what they were doing.

We gently built the community around the concept of self-care and created new products with a self-care slant, while still maintaining the whimsy of the original brand. The goal was to not let people think this was a frivolous purchase (which caused their dissonance) and help them see that this bath time was a fundamental part of being mentally and emotionally fulfilled. It reduced the invisible dissonance that users felt every time they felt strongly compelled to buy, but couldn’t justify why.

It also helped center the company around a deep and meaningful “why”.

Adapt Action

While changing action and belief are valid pathways to success, it’s also important to consider how the customer journey around everything is evolving. According to a new Edelman Trust Barometer report, Gen Z is upending the purchase funnel in surprising ways (emphasis added below):

Gen Z’s true relationship with brands often begins at purchase…”Our data showed that that purchase is not an end point. It’s the starting point… According to the study, 78% of Gen Z respondents say they “uncover things that attract me and make me loyal to a brand after my first purchase,” with 50% saying they do most of their brand research after they buy.

People are increasingly creating brand relationships after the fact of conversion. That means you may not have much time to change belief or action beforehand.

In that case, adapting action may be the best pathway forward.

Instead of changing people’s beliefs, or changing their actions or perceptions of those actions, you must find a way to let them engage in the same behaviors, but with outcomes that are more aligned with the identities they hold for themselves.

Adapting action means people make little or no change to their beliefs and behaviors, but enjoy a different outcome that is more aligned with their identities.

Sollis Health is a 24/7 members-only medical center. They remove a lot of the friction that comes in the usual doctor’s office or urgent care visit, and replace it with comforting experiences. Members enjoy a private space where medical care is the way it should be: highly attentive, calming in nature, extremely well staffed and resourced, and designed to make patients feel like VIPs.

Sollis Health
Sollis Health’s website, 8/15/2023

But people don’t pay annual memberships ranging from $3,500 to $6,000 for convenience and amenities alone. What makes Sollis a strong brand is the hidden cognitive dissonance it aims to ease.

Throughout Sollis’ brand, the big promise is clarity and handholding. Sollis members feel like a unified team of elite professionals is actively watching over the health of them and their families. They have a sense of clarity in their medical care, and they feel confident in the condition of their health.

People generally want to believe that they are responsible in managing their wellbeing. They want to believe they eat right, exercise, get their annual exams, stay on top of blood tests and so on. But that doesn’t square with the fact that so many of us avoid the doctor’s office or the hospital, delaying important visits and skipping treatments altogether.

Why do we hate the doctor’s office or hospital so much? Because it tells the opposite story of responsible wellbeing. Oftentimes, conversations with doctors and nurses leave us with more questions than answers. Practitioners don’t speak to each other and we nervously work to make sure each new doctor has our history and up-to-date records.

The experience, especially if you have a significant condition to deal with, feels highly disempowering. When we go to these places, we do not get to act like the health-forward people we think we are. Instead we leave aggravated, feeling bad about ourselves, and anxious that our behavior does not live up to our self-perception.

And this is the genius of Sollis. Instead of asking more of us (like the empowered patient movement), or asking us to do something different (like functional medicine), Sollis allows us to keep the same behavior but experience a very different outcome. We simply go to the doctor’s office and we get to be the responsible, health-forward people we believe we are. Everything about Sollis reinforces this identity.

Adapting action is usually the quickest way to close the dissonance gap because it lowers or erases the bar to action.

The brands that succeed in this pathway oftentimes look like crossovers. They borrow from complementary categories to create new norms in how people behave, and what they expect the outcomes to be.

Education is a notoriously tough industry to crack into, but edutainment is a crossover that both lowers the barrier to action and changes the outcomes to be more in line with our self-perceptions.

While platforms like Masterclass and Patreon made great strides in this direction, TikTok has mastered it with their education content. There are many stats that show just how powerful TikTok is in edutainment, including the fact that a surprising 51% of college students use it for homework help.

Education on TikTok is a crossover between intimate conversations with your favorite parasocial friends and bite sized insights that pique your interest in things you may not have cared about otherwise.

We can continue our deeply ingrained action (scrolling on a phone watching 30-second bits of content), but enjoy a much more identity-aligned outcome (valuable learning).

I believe the adapt action pathway will be one of the most successful and defensible paths for brands over the next few years because as the world becomes more noisy and culture becomes more fragmented, we will have less and less time to do the hard work required of the other 3 paths.

Adapt action bundles brand defensibility with product defensibility in a way that we rarely see in the marketplace, creating new spaces and norms for users. If you can cheat cognitive dissonance so that the same actions produce different results, you can win over a much wider audience.



While it may be tempting to choose a pathway that seems obvious or easy, or to choose adapt action because it offers lucrative opportunity, you must always choose the one that is best suited to your problem.

In fact, you don’t usually get to choose the path you must take. Given that the problem you are solving, the user you are solving for and the pressures of the market are not in your control, the path will usually choose you.

Step away from your product and instead look at the motivations of your user. Where is there a mismatch between who they are and who they believe to be? Where do they suffer the pain of not meeting their own expectations? When it comes to your category, product or service, who do they see themselves as, and how do they work against that image? Find the path that is required of your brand.

We live with dissonance everyday, and the best brands understand that. They use it not only to shape their branding, but also their products, services and user experiences.

Each pathway, when properly explored, will reveal new opportunities throughout the business and the marketplace. Your reach, engagement and defensibility will all be more impactful.

It’s a great path to innovation, while staying true to the people you’re looking to serve.

[This piece is a sequel to an earlier piece I wrote about cognitive dissonance called The Cognitive Dissonance Hiding Behind Strong Brands]

Brand Strategy Video

Brands & Outliers

insights in culture

Brands & Outliers

Second-order insights in strategy.

Each month, our team does a wide sweep of culture and presents every recent finding they think is worth noting.

It’s my favorite meeting ever, and it’s called “Brands & Outliers”: brands because they are the bellwethers of culture, and outliers because every movement begins as an anomaly in the landscape.

Today, we’re sharing this rich discussion with you. I want you to think of this as your smart friends and colleagues getting in a room and freely talking about what they’re paying attention to, because that’s what it is for me.

From this conversation emerges vital second-order insights that help progress our model of the markets. Our rule is to move fast and lean hard into casting the future.

It’s a deep dive primer into innovation, culture, business and future signals, but in a way that ties all of it together in an actionable story.

It will give you clear perspective and new ideas to work with.


I’ve included timestamps of highlights below, but there’s a ton of good stuff in here. 

If you like this video and want to see more recordings of our monthly Brands & Outliers meeting, let me know. We’d love to keep sharing this conversation with you.


00:20 VC, Startups and Innovation

  • 03:55 Does reverse globalization mean we’re moving away from gold standards?
  • 04:45 The recession never happened, lol.
  • 08:01 Big data is out.

09:39 Cultural Narratives

  • 10:58 We’re a culture obsessed with “detox”. We detox our bodies, relationships, dopamine addictions, social media and environments. The idea of shedding and purging is everywhere.
  • 12:36 We’re in an awkward transition out of optimized tech culture into something more ‘feeling’, and it’s decidedly surreal.
  • 15:15 #humancore and NPC streaming may be bizarre, but they also get you in your feelings. (It’s all very High Fidelity Society.)
  • 29:21 So many new brands are just skins over chatGPT. It’s therapy dressed up as a buzzfeed quiz or an editor clothed as a writing coach. Reminds us of the disaggregation of Craigslist.
  • 42:43 What happened to the irredeemable bad guy/ girl? They became complicated, human, nuanced when we left Low Fidelity Society.
  • 45:46 Death doulas, operatic escapism, people getting over alcohol… we are reassessing the vices and fears we subscribe to.

57:54 Brand Activations

  • 51:44 Character AI, Jen AI, Caryn AI all seeping into waking life.
  • 59:42 Dr. Bombay Ice Cream and NFTs becoming brands.
  • 01:00:17 Crocs engagement rings can only exist in world where millennials have killed jewelry.
  • 01:01:30 HYBE looks to lift the language barrier in music.

01:02:44 Future Signals

  • 01:02:52 Population collapse meets fertility tech: the first babies conceived with a sperm injecting robot have been born, and IVG (In-Vitro Gametogenesis) is here.
  • 01:03:49 Biophilic design speaks to our desire to bring nature indoors. The home is for healing now, and that has big implications for the industry.
  • 01:04:56 Language is the operating system of democracy, and that has significant implications when large language models begin to shape how we interface with the world.

Written By
Jasmine Bina​

Think With Us:

Strategy In Your Inbox
Brand Strategy Featured Marketing

How To Bend the Will of the Market


Here’s the only definition of brand strategy you will ever need: Strategic brands bend the will of the market.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the coolest brand, the biggest or the most innovative. None of those things are defensible on their own.

Real strategy is when you make moves today to condition the market, so that tomorrow the market prefers you over your competitors. 

Apple conditioned the market to see electronics as identity markers.

Architectural Digest conditioned the market to see interior design as social voyeurism.

Equinox conditioned the market to see the gym as a temple of “high-performance living”.

All of them created conditions that favored them over anyone else in the space. This is real strategy.

If you can’t look at all of your brand activities and decipher how you are shaping the perception of your category in a way that positions your brand as the natural winner, you do not have a strategy. You are merely reacting to the rules that another player has written.

At any given point, the market moves forward linearly. Products, features, ideas, expectations, behaviors and the overall story that defines them will continue to move forward in the same direction along the same line. 

But when you bend the will of the market, you bend the direction of that line. You change the overall story so that suddenly your brand is on the critical path, and your competitors have fallen off.

There are a few ways to bend the will of the market, regardless of whether you are a small company or a big one, B2C or B2B, first to market or last. 

What matters more than anything else is that your brand resists falling on the linear path. Bending the will of the market is always hard, and there is no guarantee, but the brands that are successful are usually the ones that take the biggest swings.

Create new context

Every category has rules, but some of the most interesting brands exist at the border between two different categories, where the rules of one are traded in for the other. 

James Dyson revolutionized the vacuum cleaner market by introducing bagless cleaners, except they played in the rules of high technology. Dyson conditioned consumers to see vacuum cleaners as high-tech, high-performance appliances and managed to shift the perception of cleaning from a chore to something more sophisticated and even desirable – and far less tied to the female domain.

When a vacuum becomes a technological wonder, there’s no need to hide the inner machinery anymore. Dyson designed clear bins so users could see the cyclone at work, and encased the vacuums in sleek, bold housing. 

As a tech product, Dyson put itself in a category of one. They bent the will of the market by creating new context around the meaning of a vacuum cleaner. 

Changing the company you keep gives you access to a new set of mythologies to play with and benefit from.

Create new identities

Why did Tesla win while other, highly capable incumbents lost? Why was Tesla so highly valued before they even shipped their cars, oftentimes at the expense of Ford, GM and Toyota’s stock prices? 

It wasn’t because of the technology. It was because no other brand was investing in the expression of identity. 

In all of his branding and marketing efforts, Elon wasn’t really telling us about the car. He was telling us about the driver.

Tesla conditioned the market to see electric vehicles as luxury, high-performance cars at a time when EVs were seen as feeble playthings, but even more remarkably, they conditioned us to see the driver as a future-forward innovator when EV owners were seen as backwards-looking tree huggers.

Tesla understood that creating a new identity would bend the will of the market in a way that no other player could catch up with.

Create new needs

Chobani transformed the yogurt market in the United States with the introduction of greek yogurt, but in order to succeed with an audience who already had a very entrenched taste for sweeter, thinner yogurt reserved solely for breakfast, the brand had to recondition what Americans thought yogurt was for in the first place.

Tapping into a growing consumer interest in high-protein diets and natural foods, Chobani was one of the first functional food brands, touting the higher order functions of greek yogurt that was high in protein, kept people fuller longer, and led to better performance throughout the day.

Nobody had seen yogurt as a functional food before. Yoplait commercials showed us french women eating yogurt pots on swings in green fields (or something like that). We weren’t even looking at food in terms of function as a society at that point. But Chobani educated its customer to care about something even more important than taste or calories.

Yogurt went from being a light snack to a powerhouse meal. Chobani released new fruit and topping combinations that were both sweet and savory, as well as new packaging formats that looked and traveled like a to-go meal.

They created a new need that has completely changed the way we qualify, buy and eat our yogurt every day.



If you are not bending the will of the market toward your brand, you’re paving the path of the market to your competitor. In most industries where hypergrowth can happen overnight, this is a zero sum game. 

“Brand is just a perception, and perception will match reality over time.” Those are Elon’s words. Perception is the most important tool you have. 

Don’t go for the linear story. Go for the exponential story that pulls the market toward you and away from others.  

Brand Strategy Culture Featured

The 4 Phases of Culture Brands


Your brand can only exist within the culture of its time. If you get too far out ahead of that culture, you lose touch with your user. If you trail behind the culture, even a little bit, your user loses touch with you. 

Any given culture generally moves between 4 stages: Entrenchment, Tension, Exploration and Transformation. Each stage leads to the next, and each stage has its own characteristics. 

But just because your industry is in a certain stage of culture doesn’t mean you have to play there. You can change the culture of your category in order to position your brand as the natural winner. 

In fact, most good brands uphold the culture of their time, but the greatest brands move people from one stage of culture to the next.

The early internet culture, the social media boom, and the rise of ethical consumerism all told us the norms of those spaces, but they also gave us a framework for feeling when those norms were being outgrown. It wasn’t until we were given language and ideas like ‘digital privacy’, ‘personal branding’, and ‘sustainable living’ that these categories began to change, and we started to update our place in the world once again. The brands that spearheaded that change, like Telegram, LinkedIn, and REI, ended up creating a market that valued them more than their competitors.

Culture tells us our place in the world. Every category, from media and fashion to food and finance is in a different phase of cultural change, but it’s the movement from one stage of culture to the next that creates the highest form of brand equity

While there are bounds to what culture will tolerate in a given stage, there are levers within those bounds that you can use to push your audience forward. But first you have to understand the rules in order to understand how to properly break them. 

The Culture Brand Cycle is a roadmap for moving the culture of your category from one phase to the next, so that your brand is ideally positioned and your competitors are at a natural disadvantage.


The 4 Phases of Culture Brands

Moving your category’s culture from Entrenchment to Tension, from Tension to Exploration or from Exploration to Transformation requires the right kind of brand at the right time. 

Below, I discuss what triggers are needed between each phase of culture in order to move your category forward.

If you can accurately diagnose where you are and where you need to go, you can be the changemaker that captures outsize value.


Entrenchment is a stage in cultural dynamics where a specific ideology, belief system, narrative, or value-set has become deeply rooted and widely accepted by the majority. It often results in a shared societal perspective, with individuals, businesses, and other institutions investing heavily in maintaining this status quo. 

Entrenchment feels safe, but also stale. There may be a sense of boredom or apathy, but there is generally little discomfort.

The following industries are in the Entrenchment phase right now and they provide good examples of how our value sets in these areas are still pretty deeply rooted. 

  • Fast Food – The fast food industry has been entrenched for decades, characterized by convenience, standardized menus, and quick service. The giants have been giants for a long time, and the challengers don’t look that different from them. The culture in this space is simple, safe and risk-averse, with the vast majority of players (and consumers) valuing speed and cost. In fact, this culture is so entrenched that sociologists consider the “McDonaldization of society” to be a major force that has rippled outside of the fast food industry.

  • Education – The Education category finds itself deeply entrenched in long-established systems and traditional approaches to learning. For decades, formal education institutions like schools and universities have been the primary means of acquiring knowledge, primarily through standardized curriculum and testing. While a glut of tech and learning startups have tried to change this, and there have been movements to shift education toward critical thinking, creativity and problem solving skills, any change has been incremental. Other than online classes and iPads in backpacks, you won’t see much difference in the classroom of today versus the classroom of a decade ago.

  • Hotels – The traditional hotel industry, with brands like Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt have long-established value propositions of comfort, convenience, and amenities. Despite the rise of alternatives like Airbnb, hotels remain the default option for many travelers and no one is complaining because we’re entrenched in a generally accepted value system within this category.

How To Move From Entrenchment To Tension: Entrenched cultures emerge when people concede to “good enough”, and the only way out of it is to make what’s “good enough” feel painful.

Your brand needs to wake people up to the discomfort they’ve ignored and make them see the inferior status quo they’ve accepted, but simply showing people a better way won’t get you far. 

The kind of pain that spurs a culture out of Entrenchment and into the next phase of Tension is deeply personal and emotional. It’s the pain of cognitive dissonance where there is a conflict between one’s self-image and their behaviors. 

When Apple employed their branding to turn all of us into electronics tastemakers according to Seth Godin, they suddenly created a dissonance between how people viewed themselves and how they shopped for electronics. It was painful to not own an iPhone, which had now become a signal of personal innovation and creativity. Suddenly a whole generation was faced with the question of “Who am I?” when they went shopping for phones.

During its Entrenchment phase, the culture of the auto industry was deeply rooted in notions of raw power and speed. Ferrari spent years engineering the perfect sensory experience of a revving gas engine. The military might of Hummers showed up in the suburbs. The Fast and the Furious multiplied. 

But Tesla took the culture from Entrenchment to Tension by introducing the right kind of pain. They may have talked a good game about replacing fossil fuels with sustainable energy, but what really won them the market was a legion of early adopters who wanted to see themselves as stewards of the future by way of technology. 

They created a new dichotomy between the old and the new. While other EV brands tried to make something familiar, Tesla made a clean break with the past.

Every few months, the internet would gather to watch a Tesla race a gas-fueled supercar on Youtube, until one day the Tesla won. Where there was once the power and speed of engines, there was now the power and speed of computers.


The Tension phase emerges when friction begins to develop between existing beliefs or behaviors and emerging societal values or needs. These tensions highlight a dissonance between what our culture has accepted and what it may need to accept for future growth. 

You’ll often notice a sense of unease in this phase as people look to the years ahead. It’s an open secret that change is necessary but the opportunity in front of us feels murky. There may be good ideas and alternatives floating around, but consumers still have a hard time seeing them play out. 

The following industries show us how Tension manifests in the market.

  • Automotive – After a very long period of deep Entrenchment where automakers focused on efficiency and dealerships wielded great political power to protect themselves against pressures to evolve, the category has entered the Tension phase. Automakers are experiencing friction between the long-standing tradition of fossil fuel-powered cars and electric vehicles, and Tesla has single handedly put the dealership model under existential threat, with brands like Rivian and Lucid following. Players know change is necessary given the escalating climate crisis, peoples’ increasing demand for frictionless online buying and customization, and loosening legal protections, but many car buyers are still hesitant due to concerns about infrastructure, battery range, and the upfront cost of EVs.

  • Fashion – The fashion industry is experiencing tension as it grapples with issues related to sustainability. There’s growing awareness of the environmental impact of fast fashion, including waste and pollution, but the industry’s reliance on quick, cheap production cycles and consumer demand for new trends creates resistance to change. Consumers, just like brands, say one thing but do another.

  • Agriculture – The agriculture industry is in a state of tension due to the growing awareness of the environmental and health impacts of traditional farming practices, especially with large-scale livestock farming and monoculture crop production. Meanwhile, new concepts like vertical farming, lab-grown meat, and plant-based proteins are emerging but have not yet reached widespread acceptance or viability.

How To Move From Tension To Exploration: If you find yourself in a culture of Tension, the best way to move that culture forward is to create a sense of clarity and opportunity. Show people what’s possible. Even better, show people what they could be capable of.

This is a time to inspire and allow people to see themselves in a new world. Give them something to dream about. Turn them into empowered optimists. Let them turn that tension into a sense of Exploration.

Bitcoin and the brands around it moved finance from Tension to Exploration by giving people a clear sense of the democratic opportunity ahead. In his recent Talks At Concept Bureau on How to Build A Brand Mythology, Peter Spear noted that Bitcoin represents a “Big Bang story for the origin of a totally different financial universe based on liberation and a totally mysterious technology code as a matter of fact.” In the context of brand mythologies, Bitcoin was doing something “cosmological”. The opportunity was palpable.

New healthcare brands like Hudson Health and Levels have reframed medicine as a holistic approach to personal growth, not merely illness. While traditional medicine has been a practice of helping people get back to a baseline, these new brands are about helping people get from a baseline to an ideal. They introduce new ways of relating to one’s body, and new perspectives through which to see medicine, doctors, and patient control that have turned growing tension into exploration.


In the Exploration stage, society begins actively searching for solutions to the frictions that surfaced in the Tension stage. There’s a general openness towards new ideas, narratives, beliefs, and an eagerness to experiment with different solutions. This phase, however, is characterized by a certain degree of risk, as the culture navigates uncharted territories in an attempt to resolve the tension and align with new cultural ideals. 

Brands that operate in cultures of Exploration can feel exciting but precarious. So much is possible but a pervading sense of uncertainty colors peoples’ views.

  • Finance – The financial industry is in the Exploration phase, and while crypto and decentralized finance have cooled for the time being, challenger banks, AI financial tools and robotic process automation (RPA) are all going strong and vying to be the new default mode of finance. Traditional banking methods are being questioned, and alternatives are being explored. While many are open to these new financial solutions, the path forward is unclear due to regulatory uncertainties and technological complexities.

  • Healthcare – The healthcare industry is in an Exploration stage with the rise of new screening technology, longevity healthcare, home testing, psychedelic treatment, novel mental health formats and telemedicine. A great deal of this exploration is coming from outside of the system, namely startups and tech companies that don’t fall under the coverage of health insurance. However, the sector is still navigating issues related to patient privacy, quality of care, technological requirements and inconsistent laws and regulations across jurisdictions.

  • Space – The space industry is in the exploration stage. With private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, the possibilities of commercial space travel, asteroid mining, and lunar habitation are being actively pursued. The industry is in a state of innovation and discovery, but the new norms for commercial space activity are still unclear and in the process of being established.

How To Move From Exploration To Transformation: For brands who find themselves in a culture of Exploration, the goal should be to usher their users into a culture of Transformation by creating certainty in the market.

In a high optimism, high risk environment like this, people need to be instilled with confidence to move forward. 

I’ve written in the past that food and nutrition have become our new religions. That’s because the Exploration phase of food culture over the past few years has graduated into Transformation. Functional foods, new diet philosophies and new nutrition science created a vast array of brands that opened up our understanding of what it means to gather and eat. Our relationship to food has evolved, and we now see what we eat and drink as both therapeutic and political.

Highly prescriptive brands like Ezekiel Foods, Hü Chocolate, Vital Proteins and Whole Foods all pushed culture from Exploration to Transformation, and all of them gained massive brand equity and market share as a result. 

What all of these brands did was focus on creating confidence in their categories. Each one created highly informed, highly opinionated consumers that became discerning in their purchases, not simply with information but with philosophies about what it meant to eat, whether it was a matter of health, morality or even status.

People were bolstered with a strong sense of confidence that allowed them to transform the category.


In Transformation, our cultural exploration is beginning to yield early winners and losers. This period heralds a cultural shift where new ways of thinking and behaving are adopted and solidified into social norms. It’s a phase of significant change, often seen as a revolution in social principles. 

The Transformation phase can take time and be distributed unevenly across a culture at first, but more than anything else, it is characterized by a sense of comfort in our new realities. There is no identity play, no murkiness, and no lack of confidence. The new normal makes sense.

Categories that have arrived at Transformation can be shaky at first, but they all signal our new shared values. 

  • Media and Entertainment – The rise of streaming services, social media and user-generated content platforms have pushed this category fully into Transformation. Companies like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube have drastically changed the way people consume content, moving from scheduled programming to on-demand viewing. Distribution models have been upended, causing a significant shift in the overall industry’s structure.

  • Work and Career – We’re just entering the Transformation phase of this category, but our new shared values around work and career have begun to take root. The traditional career ladder is all but dead for most employees, the multi-hyphenate worker is the new standard, and remote work is still in a tug-of-war with legacy organizations but it’s clear that new companies will be much more amenable to the arrangement. Throw in the growing movements around the 4 Day Work Week, work-life balance and the fact that gen Z workers have leaned hard into freelance, and it’s clear that this category is undergoing transformation.

  • Food – Our new food norms are here. Flashy functional food brands that once only showed up in specialty coastal stores are now carried in every Walmart across the nation. National and international fast casual chains have begun to reflect our new diet philosophies, and even Starbucks has rolled out a line of olive oil based beverages that will resonate with anyone who has a certain understanding of dietary fats and the industrial food complex.

Transformation can be a long golden age for brands. Cultures in this phase can feel new for a very long period as people take time to settle into their new normal. It’s the reason why somewhere in the recesses of our minds we still feel Google is a startup or Netflix is a challenger brand. Neither is true anymore, but that mentality speaks to the power of transformation.

At the tail end of the Transformation phase, we move into a period of optimization where margins get competed away and everyone converges on a single modality of solutions. More and more depreciating returns lead to consolidation and oftentimes duopolies. This is where you see regulatory capture as companies work to close the door behind them. What was once a growing pie begins to move toward a zero sum game.

Meanwhile, the status quo becomes stronger until we return to the beginning of the culture cycle with…you guessed it, Entrenchment. 

One important thing to remember throughout all of these phases is that ideas, not technology, impact culture the most. With AI advancements rattling nearly every industry, it’s easy to forget that technology can only express itself within the boundaries of the culture it’s born into. 

Washing machines were supposed to liberate women from the home, but instead the culture of the time made them fire their housemaids and do the work themselves. Mass production of cars should have created the suburbs, but it didn’t. It wasn’t until the idea of the nuclear family was popularized that we saw the topography of cities change. Social media was supposed to bring us together, but within the culture of the time, it’s done the exact opposite. We’ll have to wait for an idea, not a technology, to deliver on that promise.

Know your culture. Understand both what it demands of your brand and what it denies it. Use these cycles to move your people forward with ideas and concepts that can improve the world we live in. 

Very few brand leaders understand how to move the cultural landscape, but those that do have always had an incredible advantage.

Brand Strategy Video

Talks at Concept Bureau

insights in culture

Talks at Concept Bureau

How to Create a Brand Mythology

Brand myths may seem like undecodable magic, but like Air Jordans and Barbie Dolls, what looks like an enigma on the surface is actually a formula underneath.

Brand myths perform 4 functions: the mystical, the cosmological, the sociological and the psychological. Each one of these functions creates context for understanding the world, and when done right, they create the world’s most significant names.

In this episode of Talks At Concept Bureau, ethnographer and brand thinker Peter Spear shows us how companies like Pinterest, Axe Body Spray and even Bitcoin all filled these functions, and were then able to take on mythical proportions as brands.

To get the inputs you need for brand mythology, Peter proposes Brand Listening – his extremely active and open form of qualitative research that anyone at any company can start doing right now.

It’s based on a few core principles, including the fact that we think in images, that people have experiences not answers, and that awkwardness is a beautiful way of opening people up.

This is a talk about both seeing and listening to your audience in a new way so that the mythology of your brand can do what myths are meant to do: give your people a sense of meaning and purpose.

Written By
Jasmine Bina​

Think With Us:

Strategy In Your Inbox
Brand Strategy Featured

The 14 New Rules of Brand Strategy


Six years ago, I shared my 16 Rules of Brand Strategy, a list of tenets to build or test your company’s strategy. That article went viral and is still referenced today more than any of my other pieces. But consumers and culture have changed a great deal, so it’s time to write some new rules. 

Consider the original 16 rules to be the cost of entry. They are now the baseline requirement for brand building. This new and revamped list is how you build on that foundation and level up to greatness. 

You will quickly see that these rules are not only valuable for brands but can (and should) inform product, UX, sales, marketing, PR, HR and nearly every other business activity.  

1. Don’t rebrand the product when you can rebrand the problem.

Rebranding the product puts you in a consideration set with other products, but rebranding the problem can put you in a consideration set of one.

EVRYMAN reframed the problem of therapy from “finding yourself” to “creating yourself” before they positioned their product. Cofertility rebranded the problem of fertility from “egg freezing and donation” to “touching human lives” in order to make their product newly relevant.

We recently helped a client in the debt relief industry rebrand the problem of owing money. Debt relief is a murky category with shady players, and while we understood the tremendous integrity that our particular client was built with, we knew it made no sense to say, “Hey, trust us! We’re the good guys!” (a very common mistake many brands make).

Instead, we dug deep in our psychographic research and saw something remarkable—when people go into debt, they become the debt.

Their entire identities are reduced to one dimension: They no longer identify with their hobbies, they stop going to family functions, stop volunteering, stop enjoying time with friends, stop taking pride in their work, stop planning their lives. 

They lose what makes them human, and understanding this was the real brand opportunity.

The brand wasn’t about an honest debt relief company with good products, although that was very true, the brand was about re-dimensionalizing people. We reframed the problem of “debt” to the problem of “losing selfhood.” And that is the concept we built their entire strategy on.

Immediately, their rebranded ads, messaging and positioning saw a huge uptick, while the culture of the company evolved toward a singular vision that guided every decision toward a common goal.

Think clearly about what you’re branding, because sometimes there is something much bigger than just the product.

2. Real conversion happens emotionally, not logically.

People who have damage in the emotional centers of their brains are normal in every single area of their lives with one notable exception—they can’t make good decisions, and sometimes they can’t make decisions at all. 

It turns out that decision making is driven by emotion, and logic is what we use after the fact to justify our actions. Risk assessment, emotional processing, memory, self-perception and social cognition are all bound together in our brains, and they are all part of a very complex, very emotional decision-making process.

That means B2B is just as emotional as B2C. It means underneath every feature a user tells you matters to them lies an emotion they themselves perhaps don’t understand. It also means feature-led branding will always lose.

You need to find out the emotional triggers that will truly convey your value to the user. Emotions, not features (or USP or benefits or measures of being “better” than your competitor) should be the basis of your brand.

When people convert from the heart and not the head, they are more willing to pay for premium products, more willing to evangelize and more likely to remain loyal in the face of UX and product issues, delays and other challenges. Why would you give up that much goodwill by ignoring emotion?

3. Changing belief means changing identity.

Most brands have one giant challenge between them and success: changing people’s beliefs. 

But the thing about belief is that it’s much more than ideas floating in our heads. Atomic Habits author James Clear famously documented how those who are most likely to stick to changed beliefs and behaviors are the people who first change their identities. Entrepreneur Seth Godin put it another way when he said, “People like us do things like this.”

Belief and identity are so intertwined that changing our beliefs can feel like losing ourselves. It’s scary. We live in a culture that sees it as a sign of weakness—for example, consider the fact that instead of celebrating politicians who evolve their worldviews, we approach them with distrust and skepticism.

But when we change our beliefs, we change our behaviors, and it’s oftentimes the most effective way to get people to understand the value of your brand.

The best way to change people’s minds is to help them see themselves differently in the world. In order to change the beliefs that held people back from running, Tracksmith first had to create an identity around a new “running class” of people who do it for the personal ritual. It created room for a new kind of runner—someone who wasn’t winning races but still had permission to enthusiastically invest in their running practice.  

If your brand needs people to change their beliefs, give them an identity worth adopting.

4. Loose places crave tight cultures.

Every category has a culture. Psychologist Michele Gelfand has found that cultures fall on a spectrum between tight and loose. Tight cultures like finance and sports are governed by strict norms, whereas loose cultures like parenting, food or psychedelics may have an overabundance of information but few steadfast rules everyone can agree on.

Loose culture categories feel chaotic. What diet is the right one for me? Am I raising my kid right? What is the morality of doing illegal drugs for mental health? These categories don’t have a paradox of choice. They have an absence of norms.

I’ve found exploring this theory offers a useful framework for brands. Every brand must assess the tightness or looseness of their culture. If there is a pervading sense of normlessness, then it is likely that your audience is looking for a specific perspective.

Today’s most successful food brands bring a tight culture to loose places. Lesser Evil snacks, Ezekiel breads and Garden of Life supplements are brands built on tight culture.

Ezekiel, for example, conjures the authority of biblical language to define what constitutes real, natural food. Is religious metaphor a cute vehicle for branding bread? Sure. Is it a genius device for bringing a strong set of norms that help consumers assess their bread choices amidst shelves of other options? Also very much yes.

If there is a loose culture, there is an opportunity to set the rules of engagement for your space.

5. Love is great. Hate is useful. Indifference kills.

Most brands have the problem of user indifference. People may think you have a nice enough brand but that doesn’t compel them to convert. Don’t get mired in a quest to gently move indifferent people down the funnel.

Your goal should be to create so much tension that your brand really turns on your lovers or really turns off your haters but leaves no room for indifference. Chasing indifferent users will run your company into the ground.

Ideally you’d want to lean into the love side of the equation, but you can successfully lean into the other side, as well. Marmite’s “love it or hate it” messaging created a near-mythical story around it’s divisive flavor, but the truth of the matter is that people were generally indifferent until the company decided to rebrand around this polarizing idea. 

Oatly created, an aggregated history of hate toward the brand that you either get and really love or don’t get and really hate. The one thing you can’t do is remain indifferent.

Most founders see indifference as being on the path to love, but that’s a dangerous falsehood. Love and hate are on two ends of the same path, while indifference is a dead-end highway in another town. You will waste precious time and dollars that could have been spent learning about your true base and how to broaden your audience from there.

You’d rather have lovers and haters than a world of bystanders.

6. Make people leave their biases at the door.

Be cognizant of the consumer biases in your category. People may think childcare is menial work, or that math skills are genetic, or that polyamory is shameful (all bases I have worked with for client brands), but it doesn’t matter if they’re true or not. What matters is if people carry those biases to your door.

You can either let them enter with old biases that will make them blind to your USP, or you can signal a whole new set of rules that will make people enter with an open mind, ready to behave differently. I believe this will be one of the most important factors in defining the brands that win and the brands that lose in the next decade. 

When Qualtrics rebranded their category from user data to experience management, they forced a new perspective on how data should be employed. Experience management meant seeing things more holistically across customers, employees and broader stakeholders and crafting an experience, not merely diagnosing problems.

It precluded people from bringing old notions about data into this new environment, which was crucial to their 2019 acquisition for $8 billion, referred to as an “eye-watering” sum at the time.

7. Don’t hide the experience behind conversion.

I often meet companies that have great products and services but their brands do little to reveal the experience beneath. They may talk about features or benefits, but they don’t surface the feelings that underpin them. 

However, without first understanding the experience, users are afraid of unknowns around how to engage and measure the benefit.

Don’t make your user wait until conversion to understand what the experience truly is, because most of the time, they won’t get far enough to find out. Instead, give them a glimpse of how they will feel upfront. Allow them, in some small way, to experience your offering without having to first convert.

Airbnb did this when their brand said, “Belong Anywhere”. That phrase offered a brief window into the experience of traveling by way of locals’ homes that, until then, had been locked far behind the door of conversion.

Find out what really happens on the other side of conversion, capture the way that your users change by way of your experience, and move it up front. 

8. Don’t let value get misattributed.

When my team was building the brand for one of the world’s largest work platforms, we saw something very interesting happening in the user journey.

The super users that got the most value out of the platform believed they had “hacked” it somehow. They believed that they themselves had figured out how to leverage the power of the platform in their business, without recognizing that the UX was actually designed to get them to that point.

Once we saw it with this client, we began to see it with many others. If your user journey is really good at helping people extract value from your offering, it’s highly probable that people think it’s because they are smart, not because you are good. And that means less loyalty and brand equity.

This is why storytelling around the user journey is so important. You need to take credit for all of the incremental value that is created well after conversion by demonstrating the thoughtful choices and guiding beliefs that led you to build that specific journey. Think of it as the digital version of craftsmanship. It’s an important narrative that helps people understand the value that you created for them.

9. Brand first, business second.

Brand is not the look of your website or the tone of your marketing voice. It is the organizing idea for every activity your company engages in, including product, UX, sales, communications, recruiting and even your org chart. 

People read brands between the lines. They understand your brand not by what you say but by what you do, and what you do counts in every single touchpoint, in every single channel. That’s the point of brand strategy—to orient every single business activity toward the same outcome. You should see your brand strategy as a filter for every decision.

The Lego brand is about meaningful play for every age, but that brand isn’t borne of their website or marketing alone. You must take their positioning, product strategy, collabs, press, communities, business model and innovations altogether to understand their deeper brand. If you stopped at the website, you’d just think it was a toy company.

Patagonia’s brand is about drastic measures to save the earth, such as suing the US government and rebuffing the very VCs that turned the brand into a west coast status symbol. These were tactical decisions made through the lens of the brand.  

Strong businesses have brand strategy at their core. You’d be hard pressed to find much daylight between business and brand for companies like Tesla, Apple or Meta.

To make brand inferior to business is a mistake.

10. Strive for brand singularity.

Brand singularity is when the company brand, the CEO brand and the employer brand are all synonymous. It creates a powerful flywheel effect in which no matter who your brand reaches or how it reaches them, you can be certain it’s the same resounding message every time.

Not many companies have accomplished this yet. It’s hard to maintain one brand, let alone three that echo each other.

Amazon, despite seasonal blowback, has incredible synchronicity between its employer brand, customer brand and Jeff Bezos’ personal brand. They all stand for efficiency.

You see it in all three places, from their customer manifesto and investments in delivery to the carefully-placed stories of Jeff’s two-pizza rule, upcycled boardroom tables and the story of a guy who found a way to sell books without having to store them anywhere.

It attracts talent, consumer trust and investor money.

11. Treat community like the first layer of brand.

Our world of relationships is shifting from weak ties to strong ties—from wide networks mostly filled with strangers on platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram to narrow but deeper networks where we share intimate values and culture like Discord and Patreon. 

In our research, we’ve found that people are coming to expect community to be the first layer of brand, especially in premium spaces where people are paying more in money, time or education in order to use the product or service.

The community around Fly By Jing is what sells their premium-priced sauces and spice mixes. The company’s marketing, product and overall experience are solid, but it is the community that signals what this brand is really about. Chances are that if you asked someone about Fly By Jing, they would start by telling you about the brand’s enthusiastic community first.

Where we once looked to experts, community now drives the level of trust needed to convert in costly spaces.

12. Solve 5 problems with 1 solution.

One of the best heuristics for a good brand strategy is if it solves multiple problems with a single solution. I personally like a ratio of 1 to 5.

Architectural Digest’s recent rebrand has turned the once stuffy media label into a newly relatable lifestyle hub that represents far more than architecture alone. 

According to WANT, the branding agency behind the rebrand, Playbook for living was a new brand positioning idea that “captured in a powerful and simple way, the notion of AD as the definitive ‘dream’ book that could direct and guide the essential aspects of how architecture and design unite to create living spaces.”

This concept allowed AD to successfully make their brand relatable to a much larger audience without alienating their core base of conservative readers, moving from being a utility (an educational resource) to being a lifestyle (a resource for imagination and inspiration). It meant tapping into the emotional opportunities of rule #3—“changing belief means changing identity”—to make themselves relevant to the much larger conversations of life, style and identity. It also positioned the brand as a part of pop culture, which has resulted in natural and impactful collabs with celebrities and influencers and has helped form a strong community of like-minded people around the AD brand.

They solved 5 problems with 1 solution, and this ratio is what makes a brand strategic.

Having this high ratio means you are creating more equity with significantly less resources while keeping all of the company’s momentum focused on a single direction. It means you are leveraging specific brand choices today that will create a future market which favors your brand over others. You can’t deny that the AD brand has created a new design culture that today sidelines competitors like Dwell and Wallpaper.

Planning (5 solutions for 5 problems) creates work. Strategy (1 solution for 5 problems) creates great advantage. 

13. Optimism is the only secret weapon.

If strategy lives on a time horizon, brand strategists need to have a strong grasp of where the world is headed. Although it’s very easy to only see the negative outcomes that can happen on that horizon, any futurist or historian can tell you that it is the optimistic future that pushes us forward and usually wins out.

Time and time again I have experienced how optimism is a brand strategist’s only secret weapon. When you can forecast the unexpected benefits of technologies, cultural movements, emerging beliefs and behaviors instead of only seeing the negative outcomes of so much change, you can plant your brand’s flag in the right territory.

Pessimism is easy, but optimism is very hard, which is part of the reason Concept Bureau Senior Strategist Zach Lamb has dubbed it a status signifier of our modern era.

It’s a skill that takes a tremendous amount of imagination and flexibility because it rarely comes naturally. You must cultivate it (and if you’re interested in doing that, I recommend Jane McGonigal’s book Imaginable). It is the optimists, not the pessimists, who make the future and who are able to stand out in the present.

14. Let the work change you.

Never judge your user, even if you see something in them that you don’t like or want to change. My ultimate test for knowing if my team and I or our clients are approaching the user with total empathy is to answer the question, “Has the work changed you?”

Have you looked at the user with enough of an open mind to let it change you as a person? Have you listened with enough presence to connect with a stranger or have a small piece of your worldview shifted?

You can’t experience that kind of change without first asking a certain kind of question. “Can you tell me a little bit about your work?” in a user interview will never get you transformative answers. “If you could have had a job for another life, what would it be? Who would you have been?” demands a degree of openness.

You will understand their deeper value systems, the lies they tell themselves, the struggles they conceal and the lenses through which they make decisions. All of these insights are a goldmine for not only branding, but for UX, UI, pricing, positioning and product.

Your goal with user research shouldn’t be to merely gather data but rather to make people feel seen. Without deep empathy, you are guaranteed to miss an important insight. 

The reason why strategists love what they do is because it allows them to constantly evolve past their own limited beliefs. Working with a beauty brand made me excited about getting older. Branding a construction tech company made me proud of the American work ethic. Spending time with the fans of a plus size clothing brand made me grateful for parts of myself I once tried to erase.

In fact, “Let the work change you” is our company’s first value. It’s that important.

Ask yourself the last time the work changed how you related to a population you thought you had nothing in common with. If you’re not changing, you’re not really doing the work.



You don’t need to follow all of these rules to have a successful brand, but it’s crucial that you embody the general spirit of this list, which is to always be questioning and investigating the deeper reasons why people think, behave and believe the way that they do. 

The greatest brand strategies have one thing in common: they understood their users. On a fundamental level, that’s what building a company is about, too. Understanding people is what leads to big and impactful ideas.

I believe the path to an incredible brand strategy already exists for every brand. Your job is to keep searching until you find it, and my hope is that this list acts as a wayfinder on your journey there.

Brand Strategy Culture Featured

High Fidelity Society Is Reorganizing The World


We used to pass culture through objects. There was a time for many of us when a vinyl record, a luxury handbag or a Lisa Frank folder were relics that signaled “I am one of you.” They had singular meanings that everyone agreed upon, and appreciation of the object itself was at the center of the culture. 

But today, there is perhaps no more effective way to signal “I am one of you” than with a carefully selected meme or perfectly ungrammatical text. A specific mashup, a certain combination of emoji or a self-referential aesthetic can convey multitudes more about a culture now than any physical item ever could.

When we stopped passing culture through objects and started passing culture through digital artifacts, we moved from low fidelity society to high fidelity society

My cofounder, Jean-Louis Rawlence, coined the term high fidelity society to frame the moment our cultural signals shifted from wide knowledge to deep nuance. 

The low fidelity society of just a few decades ago thrived on singularities and binaries. Households had split roles, careers had predetermined trajectories, perceptions of gender ran within clear lanes, lifestyles spread across a simple set of socioeconomic classes, political parties were mirrored images of one another and economics followed the rules of supply and demand.

The spheres of possibility were narrow. We shared the same core values because we all watched the same TV, read the same papers and subscribed to the same institutions. 

Less information was the hallmark of a low fidelity society and what made it work. When a world is that small, it can only support a simple set of social rules. If a subculture didn’t fit our neat binaries and categories, it was omitted from the canon or filed down to fit into broader societal trends. It makes sense, then, that our cultural objects took little context to be understood. 

But high fidelity society shifted things. Suddenly, with our worlds online and with the ability to capture and codify so much more information, culture ballooned and our digital objects became massively heavy with meaning.

As the sheer volume of culture in our digital worlds inflates every day, the centerpoint of history only gets closer. This phenomenon has rendered trends meaningless as markers of time and place and similarly snapped our connection to what might be called the highest tier of cultural objects: historical art. 



We’ve officially cycled through every single decade… whats next? 🔎 Nostalgia has been one of the strongest driving forces for a long time, but now that we are already cycled through Y2K into the early 2010s, we are starting to wonder… what’s comes after nostalgia? Out newsletter dropping on Monday will deep dive into this and give you free stock photos + strategic tips to stay ahead of the curve 🌊 #culturetrend #nostalgia #nowstalgia

♬ original sound – DEATH TO STOCK

“Nowstalgia” and the loss of time and place.


Younger collectors are proving to have no regard for the masters or the canon because, as professor Giana M. Eckhardt notes, “If you look back at human development, there were tens of thousands of years in which things didn’t change that much. Humans have not developed enough to be able to react to social change that is this quick. This leads to people putting a value on the new in different ways from the past.” 

But I would take this insight a step further. What we’re really seeing is the weakness of physical objects as vessels of culture in our expanding high fidelity society.  

When a culture changes its medium, the medium changes the culture. Keep in mind that high fidelity society is not merely about more choice. It is about exactness. Our new medium of passing along culture has allowed for an incredible new fidelity to be had in every way we choose to engage with the world. When we engage in new ways, we create new realities. 

Nearly every singularity and binary – gender, family, identity, and so on – has crumbled. Lifestyles and socioeconomic tiers have at once exploded and collapsed into each other. Social rules have become complex (and if you don’t think so, you’re probably breaking them). Career paths are unrecognizable from where they were a decade ago, and a meme page like Litquidity can spin out into a VC, which it did. 

If you’ve ever laughed at a “starter pack” meme, you’ve felt the gulf between low fidelity society and high fidelity society. 


high earner, not rich yet finance guy in Montauk starter pack meme showing high fidelity society


A Litquidity meme can nod to various cultural touchstones in one simple image. It might make a reference to HENRY culture, self-skewer bruised egos and the need for status regardless of the cost in money or self-respect and embrace the cognitive dissonance of new wealth at a time when the markets have failed to act the way they should, while still reveling in the basic bitchness of it all. 

But most importantly, if you understand all of these layers together, you also feel the giddy, feverish camaraderie of those who practice the “farce of high finance”. And even if you don’t understand this meme, you still recognize that there is tremendous information density within it.

The physical objects of low fidelity society worked to homogenize our culture, but the digital artifacts of high fidelity society fragment culture into many pieces. And it is within those fragments that we can begin to see the future of business and branding. 

Dating app Feeld operates in high fidelity society. They are part of a cohort of early brands that feel the pressure for a new digital infrastructure to house our high fidelity needs, and my team and I were fortunate enough to work with them to develop their brand strategy.

Feeld has created a platform for dating in all of the ways that low fidelity society could not hold. Polyamory, consensual non-monogamy, homo- and heteroflexibility, pansexuality, androgyny, aromanticism, voyeurism and kink are just a few of the sexual identities that high fidelity society not only holds, but makes increasingly visible. Much like the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis of language, the more ways we have of expressing ourselves, the more we will express ourselves in different ways.

All of these identities demand new forms of connection, and Feeld is creating a unique infrastructure that allows connections to evolve instead of conform. Every feature, whether it’s the typical swipe or the novel “desire” tag, is tested with the question, “Are we letting people create new forms of closeness and intimacy here, or are we forcing people to follow old models?”

One of the clearest insights in our research for Feeld was that people in the dating pool have begun to move away from a destiny mindset of marriage, the American dream or other low fidelity aspirations to a distinctly growth mindset. 

Daters today expect relationships to help them grow as individuals, and for many, there is no end state or goal. Instead, dating is a continuous form of growth and opportunity to discover  who they are. This user sentiment stands in stark contrast to the dating apps designed for low fidelity society that boasted of being “designed to be deleted”.

Most importantly, Feeld is not the fringes of culture. In our research, we found that heteronormative users, as well as people who had not yet experienced the platform, expressed the same desire for vivid connection, aliveness and a growth mindset. They simply had not found their avenues yet. Feeld is, in fact, all of us. 

In a sea of dating apps racing to flatten the human experience, Feeld has opened a portal to something much larger. Dating in high fidelity society is multiplicative. It has become recursive, and that requires a very different kind of platform.


feeld dating app


As New York Times reporter Gina Cherelus has astutely said, “To describe yourself as single and in search of a relationship is almost too simple of a label in 2023. The way we seek romantic connections, especially with the influence of social media and dating apps, has naturally altered our behaviors and language around dating.”

Feeld’s world of dating, sexuality and relationships embraces this ever-increasing complexity, in part by utilizing the layered meaning that characterizes high fidelity society. 

In high fidelity society, a wellness influencer can at once signal their health practices and political leanings with leetspeak like “medical indu$try”. An aesthetic like corecore can at once signal a certain subculture’s age, nationality, disillusionment with technology and the larger context of absurdist content that gives people room to criticize something while also sheepishly embracing it. Feeld respects the fact that its users are already immersed in a highly contextual world.



Yea #nichetok #corecore

♬ The Sound of Myself – Disasterpeace

corecore TikTok by flicksaga


Not many brands operate in high fidelity like Feeld does, but more and more are making the jump, and we’ve had the privilege of working with some of them at Concept Bureau.

Companies that are building for high fidelity understand that they are no longer building for the average or the standard. They are building platforms and communities that allow for a fragmenting of experience, giving users room to create net-new realities. 

They know that as peoples’ communities and identities become more specific, our many different cultures will only become more narrow and deep. The mechanics of this new culture, then, naturally incentivize the compounding of meaning and with the proliferation of content creation tools (dare I say A.I.), the density of culture will only increase.

In our work, we have seen a growing appetite for high fidelity infrastructure in every single category. Whether it’s work, finance, health, luxury, education, parenting or anything else, people are already living high fidelity lives but are forced to express them on low fidelity platforms

When we see that tension, we know there is latent demand for new infrastructure. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for brands to leapfrog a market full of low fidelity players by ushering people into a high fidelity experience. 

But codifying high fidelity society is a difficult task for any founder. There is no precedent to fall back on, and as the world reorganizes itself, we have to be careful to not use old rulers for measuring new ideas. 

There are two major paradigm shifts that can guide you in the right direction and have proven to be fundamental in moving our clients over the line from low fidelity society into high fidelity society. 

They require a significant change in how we understand networks, but even more importantly, they begin to show us just how big of an opportunity lies ahead.

Shift #1: From Goalposts to Participation

Low fidelity society is organized around goalposts. Getting a college degree, house, promotion, marriage, kids and retirement are the obvious ones. But there are other goalposts everywhere around us, like being a LinkedIn super connector, being verified on Instagram, making the Forbes 30 under 30, backpacking through Europe, starting your first business or “finding yourself”.

You have or don’t have. You reach the goalposts or you don’t. Up until this point, we’ve been able to measure value in binaries because low fidelity society gave us clear definitions of what mattered.

But high fidelity society resists such clear definitions. What matters to one fragment of culture will not matter to another. What matters to hopepunks vs. nihilists, keto warriors vs. vegans, tiny homers vs. van lifers or anti-natalists vs. mommy tribes will all be different. 

The desire to experience progress in one’s life never goes away, but how we measure that progress has become much more nuanced. 

In high fidelity society, goalposts are replaced by participation. In a culture where there is no singular end goal, progress becomes invisible and our value is instead measured by how deeply we engage. 

We realized that Feeld users across the board were not looking to reach the next goalpost. Their growth mindset resisted everything you might see in a traditional dating environment. Instead, Feeld users, and people in high fidelity society in general, pay attention to participation signals. 

It is not how much you have accomplished, but instead how much you have engaged and evolved. Over and over again, people described coming to Feeld in order to feel vividly connected to their minds, bodies and relationships, and they looked to learn from others who had done the same. They sought to participate rather than reach an arbitrary relationship goalpost, because participation proves a genuine interest in growth. 

Goalposts run out at some point. Business author Donald Miller has noted that after marriage and kids, life stops giving us scripts for how to matter in the world. Perhaps that’s why midlifers 50 years and older are Feeld’s fastest growing demographic on the app. Even up until then, you can likely sense that the goalposts of low fidelity society are becoming increasingly meaningless.

Polywork, a network for multi-hyphenate professionals, is another early example of a brand experimenting with new ways of measuring participation while de-emphasizing the traditional goalposts of their space. They’ve rethought what work and collaboration really mean in high fidelity society, and have built a creative model for revaluing participation between users. They understand that value systems are changing.  

It’s vitally important to note, however, that participation needs to be a currency between people. Platforms have historically made participation a currency between the user and the brand, but that’s meaningless in high fidelity society. We’re exchanging weak ties for strong ties, and deep networks for wide networks (something I have talked about here and here). 

Making participation between people something that is valued, measured and highly visible within the platform experience – without the expectation of reaching a goalpost – creates wholly new opportunities for high fidelity brands.

Shift #2: New Ways of Knowing

In high fidelity society, there is more than one way of knowing. 

For the past year, my Concept Bureau colleague, Senior Strategist Zach Lamb, has been exploring the new ways of knowing that have emerged in religion, politics and lifestyle. According to Zach, we’ve bypassed the models and institutions that used to mediate higher knowledge for something more immediate and direct. 

Knowing in high fidelity society is now firsthand. Self-directed ketamine startups aim to replace the therapist’s office. Mystical Instagram accounts have replaced church. TikTok has replaced school. 

Call it spirituality, intuition or being tapped in – whether it’s knowing god, knowing the truth or knowing oneself, the very business of knowing has become a highly personal and emotionally-driven endeavor. We are exploring new, unfettered ways of knowing everywhere around us. And all of these new ways of knowing help us create new stories about who we are in the world.



As culture multiplies and fragments, new ways of knowing will also be the hallmark of brands in high fidelity society. In such a dimensional era of culture, we can no longer determine what we need to know by glancing at a list of LinkedIn recommendations, a work history or a bulleted resume. Nor can we glean what matters from a Tinder blurb, an Instagram profile pic, a list of interests, a badge, a milestone number, a label or a bio. 

These rough, often misleading approximations of who people are have never fully worked, even in low fidelity society. And they will stop working entirely as culture becomes more exact. 

If we are building for the fragmenting of experience and creating room for nuance and specificity – for people to connect deeper instead of networking wider – then our platforms need to create new ways of knowing that go far beyond anything we see today, because every low fidelity signal will fail in the high fidelity world.

Feeld has the same challenge. Creating new ways of knowing another person (or oneself, a relationship, a couple and so on) will be fundamental to their success. They, like every other high fidelity brand, will need to reconsider how people both express themselves and understand  each other, oftentimes rethinking the very mediums through which people can connect.  

For us as brand strategists, it also meant engineering a brand experience that leaned into the feelings and emotions of truly knowing oneself and others. 

Every great brand sets the expectation of the experience before people cross the threshold of conversion. High fidelity companies need to be especially careful in setting the expectation of new ways of knowing, whatever that might be for a specific brand, because we can’t expect people to behave in high fidelity ways if we do not first make them leave their low fidelity biases at the door.  

Your brand is the first stop in shaking people out of their old habits. Every current way of knowing – from bulleted stats to blurbs to recommendations to bios to photo carousels – needs to be rethought. None of these help us feel a person, and absolutely none of them are a strong foundation for greater participation between people. 

Brands like Fieldtrip, How We Feel and allUP (a Concept Bureau client launching soon) have built innovative formats for new ways of knowing that historically weren’t available to their users. Each of them makes personal or interpersonal understanding the bedrock of their UX.

The new ways of knowing that will matter are those that help us weave a story about who we are in the world and how others’ stories intersect with our own. That is where high fidelity flourishes. 

The Universal Reorg

I’ve found high fidelity/ low fidelity to be a great tool for both organizing the players in a landscape and understanding where behaviors are headed. 

Brands that play in high fidelity society create a natural tension with low fidelity players. In branding, tension is a great tool for forcing a decision. Our new digital infrastructures will not just be incremental improvements. They will be invitations to either stand still or step into a new reality. 

But more interestingly, as a strategist I have seen just how eager people are to start living in high fidelity society everywhere, although they may not have the words to articulate it. In a particularly moving interview, a Feeld user said that in high fidelity, “You feel like you are able and allowed to glow in every part of your life […] I feel like I can breathe”. 

If I took that quote out of the dating space and put it in another space like work or finance or education or social media or fashion or beauty or wellness or anything else, it would still ring true. If you do good user research in your industry, you will eventually uncover this sentiment across your entire population, as well. The desire to live in high fidelity is universal across people and categories

It is not technology that begets culture, it is culture that begets technology, and in every generation there is usually one major cultural shift that reorganizes all of the technology ahead of us. High fidelity society is an incredible opportunity to position your brand as a force for moving forward. 

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