I'm a very logical guy, so I still fondly remember when new solutions and technologies started trends on the basis of their logical strengths. In today's world, it seems that emotion, not logic, sparks the new trends that become culture, and drives our devotion or disappointment in new products and brands. How does an entrepreneur best deal with that environment?
I just saw some real insights in a new book by Jeremy D. Holden, Second That Emotion: How Decisions, Trends, and Movements Are Shaped. He is a branding and research strategist who outlines how social contracts cause culture shifts, illustrates how they are created by emotion, and clarifies ways that they can make or break a new product, as well as a career.
Jeremy applies his culture shift tenants to political and generic social issues, but I have adapted them here more specifically to the business realm of entrepreneurs and startups:
- Establish a social contract. Today consumers reveal themselves online, with pictures, opinions, ratings and reviews, interests and locations, and expect businesses to adapt to them, and honor the implied relationship contract. Businesses which ignore this contract are excluded from consideration, despite maybe having a logically better product or price.
- Enlist disciples and a congregation. Social relationships are built around zealots and their disciples who ultimately engage a wider congregation and perpetrate the culture shift. Emotion, rather than logic, drives disciples. "Viral marketing" and "word-of-mouth" are tools of disciples in business today. Don't underestimate their value and potential.
- Create and leverage a chief disciple. Every startup needs a visible chief disciple today. The days of a new website and product with no personalization are gone. By default, the Founder is the chief disciple who displays the qualities to build the required social contracts. People today need a zealot, like Steve Jobs, to drive the desired culture shift.
- Embrace illogical leaps. Culture shifts are usually illogical leaps. You can use projective techniques to unlock the unconscious or hidden motivations that are shaping people's belief systems, leading to these leaps. Build a connection to your product, and leverage the momentum into more social contracts and bigger congregations.
- Use social media to generate emotion. Social media is central to the creation of a social contract because it serves as an emotional beacon, and helps to fuel the invention of illogical leaps. Of course, its primary role is still to allow people to connect, organize, and engage, as well as provide startups with rich insights they might otherwise miss.
- Deliver emotional certainty. No matter how illogical it may appear, we strive for certainty in all of our choices and affiliations. Social contracts give customers the feeling of self-affirmation that they are smart and knowledgeable enough to make informed selections. Inevitably, they feel more connected to the companies that give them this peace of mind.
- Protect your principal symbols. Whatever tangible form your brand or message takes, it becomes the encapsulating beacon for a culture shift as well as an emotional conduit for a shift's goals and beliefs. If the symbol changes, brands may see an erosion of their social contract, and it can feel as you've interfered with something deeply personal in their lives.
- Avoid a breach. There is no such thing as reward without risk, and the emotional nature of people's commitment to a culture shift means that any misstep, betrayal, or overt contradiction can be fatal. Disciples and ultimately the congregation decide if you have broken the social contract for the culture shift, so you had better understand their terms.
- Ride your luck. When circumstances conspire to give your efforts unexpected momentum, it's essential to be able to respond quickly and ride your luck, rather than remain strictly wedded to a plan or a strategy that hadn't accounted for the new dynamic.
- Timing is everything. Luck and timing are inevitably less certain than product build schedules or marketing programs. Be prepared to capitalize on the emotion of competitor missteps, changes in the economy, and other world events to drive new social contracts, new disciples, and broaden your congregation. Culture shifts are usually not planned.
Not all businesses or startups are dependent on a culture shift to be successful. But culture shifts have created most of the great recent companies, such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook. As much as it pains the logical me to admit it, if you want your startup to be the next one, it's time to adapt to the "age of illogic."