Anna Peters

I spend quite a lot of my time thinking about what motivates people and, like an angsty Adrian Mole, that means I spend a lot of time questioning the point in life.

It’s a big question, but one that I think is worth reflecting on. Wrestling with it can lead to your personal growth – but it can also help brands to connect more meaningfully with consumers in the digital sphere.

So, what is the answer to this big question?
Aristotle said it was all about ‘Discovering one’s true self’ and Pindar’s Dictum dictated we should ‘become what thou art.’  To paraphrase – these dudes are telling us to figure out who we are, and stay true to it. Jung was another clever chap who said something similar, and his approach can be applied to the help brands trying to interact with consumers via digital.

Jung believed that the goal in life was individuation. That is to integrate all the different ‘parts’ of your outer-self into one strong, inner core.  Jungian analysts may accuse me of bastardising a complex theory – but my interpretation is that we’re all working towards developing a strong enough sense of ‘self.’ That means, no matter what situation you find yourself in (down the pub, at work, or with in-laws) you are able to stay true to that core, but just wear a more socially appropriate ‘hat’ depending on the situation.

Individuation in the digital era
Individuation is a tough process for anyone: I’m sure we’ve all had the unnerving experience of wearing the ‘wrong hat’ for too long, ending up feeling dissociated from who we really are. Trouble is, taking off the ‘wrong hat’ requires a lot of introspection and hard ‘ego’ work.

And this hard work is getting harder: the digital world is a outward-focused world that is concerned with connectivity, public perceptions, and profiles:

  • Compared to face/face conversations, digital interactions are 80% more self-promoting
  • Compared to 1967. we’re less likely to care about developing a meaningful life philosophy.
  • Baroness Greenfield warns that digital presents a “distinct danger” of becoming dissociated from the ‘real’ world.

Back to the hat analogy. Digital means we have a wide and varied hat wardrobe, and we’re constantly changing outfits. This wide wardrobe offers advantages and disadvantages:

  • On the plus side, a wide selection of hats means that we can experiment more, it means we are more accepting of difference, and because of this it probably means we’re all a bit more innovative that previous generations.
  • But, a wide selection of hats means that there may be too much choice in our wardrobes meaning that we never pick which hat really suits us. And this leads to anxiety and dissatisfaction

Regardless of whether you think the shift to a digital world (i.e vast hat wardrobe) is a good thing or a bad thing, it is happening. Time Magazine has called this shift the ‘Me, Me, Me Generation,’ and Howard Gardner calls it the ‘Packaged Self,’ I call it Multiple-Me Syndrome.

Multiple Me Syndrome (MMS):
Framing the issue in Jungian terms, we’re all spending a lot more time on managing our various outer-selves, and much less time integrating these various expressions of our personalities into a coherent core. As a result, we are susceptible to suffering from ‘Multiple-Me Syndrome.’

MMS is the experience of managing all your different ‘outer-selves’ in parallel. It is the way that digital encourages us to use various platforms to be different things to different people. And then because we can’t validate ourselves anymore (we simply haven’t spend the time and energy developing a strong enough inner-core or ‘ego’) we are reliant on the other people to validate us, via ‘likes’ and re-tweets.

MMS & Digital Strategy
When it comes to digital strategy, brands have a choice: they can either use their understanding of MMS for short-term gains, or they can use their understanding of MMS to build longer-term enduring relationships with consumers.

An example of a brand which has used MMS for short-term gains is the recent ‘Coca-Cola with friends’ campaign.  This campaign exploits the need for the external validation that is symptomatic of those ‘suffering’ with MMS.

By comparison, Google has started to build longer-term relationship with users by developing a platform which ‘solves’ the underlying need of MMS, i.e. their various apps allow me easily manage the transition between ‘work Anna’ and ‘play Anna’ under one coherent and core platform.

MMS & Brands
Brands, like Coca Cola, that take the short-term route will see an uplift – tapping into (…or perhaps exploiting?!) the insecurities and anxiety that is cause by the digital world will work. But, given the mounting body of evidence that suggests digital presents us with a distinct danger, is exploiting these insecurities acceptable?

Acceptable or not, I’m pretty sure that the gains from exploiting insecurities will  be short-lived: Coca Cola ‘with friends’ was fun to start with, but how much do we really care about having Coca Cola ‘with Santa’?

An approach which is better for the long-term success of the brand (…and less exploitative?!) is to use digital to actually solve the real need of people suffering from MMS i.e. the need to consolidate their hat wardrobe.

MMS & you
On a more personal note – if you think that you may suffer from MMS, then I encourage you to introspect and consolidate your ‘hats’ into a more coherent wardrobe; it might just help you find the meaning of life.

Disclaimer; MMS is not a true ‘syndrome’ 

Anna Peters is Director of Co-Creation at Bright Young Minds