Brands must distinguish between human motivations and technological change

by Nigel Hollis | November 26, 2014

Since the advent of the Internet, there has been a pervasive meme spreading through society in general; and the marketing community specifically. The meme holds that humans are changing and that the old rules do not apply. The problem is that if marketers take this at face value, and act like everything is changing then they will fail to leverage the true power of branding.

Essentially, the meme states that technology is changing human nature and enabling us to do things we have never done before. True, technology is enabling us to do things we have never done before. False, human nature is changing. Has technology stopped people worrying about Ebola, whether they will have a job next year, or what to buy Dad for Christmas? No. What technology has done is to make sure that we feel like an epidemic in West Africa is happening on our doorstep, to lock us into a world where we only hear the opinions we want to hear, and help us find the cheapest price when we find that ideal gift.


Let me give you just a couple of examples of this idea in action. The first comes from an article in BrandChannel by Catherine Straut titled, “From Cradle to Grave, Social Media Changes the Circle of Life”. The article suggests that social media is now an integral part of millennial’s lives from posting baby photos and videos on Facebook to…well, actually I am not really sure how funeral services were meant to be relevant to the story other than to justify the title.

The point is that people have always shared stuff about kids. They carried photos of them in their wallet, they inflicted lengthy home videos on friends, and told interminable stories about them at parties. The motivation has not changed, only the speed and reach with which people can spread the word. The same is true of brands. Brands work just as they have always done. Brands are signals of meaning in a morass of noise. A marketer that focuses attention only on the means and not the meaning is going to end up ignoring the real drivers of brand success.

For my second example let’s have a quick look at an article in the New York Times titled, “Welcome to the Failure Age!”, by Adam Davidsonnov This is an excellent article that describes how the failure loop has closed over the years from centuries to years. As the pace of innovation speeds up, so the rate of failure increases too; constant innovation begets constant failure. We see this in our own industry. However, Davidsonnov also states,

“The advice of mentors, whose wisdom is ascribed to a passing age, will mean less and less.”

Maybe this is just me being defensive, but surely it just depends on whether your wisdom is founded on? If I found my wisdom on knowledge of digital technology I am soon going to get found out, but if I focus on what has not changed, human nature and why people buy brands, then I suspect my advice will be good for a while.

So what do you think? Is everything changing? Or do we need to make a distinction between human motivations and technology? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Crispen Sachikonye, November 28, 2014
    Yes, human nature and motives are changing - as has been from the beginning of time. The question should be has it changed enough to warrant new definitions or should we continue widening definitions (as you do with your 'picture in the wallet' example). We have a defined set of motives that has come about over time. The clever brand is the one that bases itself on those motives, and targets consumers who are similarly motivated. Where there is a gap between the brand and consumers' motivation, the brand's role is to redefine the environment so that motives can align. Here are additional thoughts from a presentation I made.
  2. Riefvan, November 27, 2014

    I think Brands should reflect on how close they are in connecting human motivation and technological change. Good brand would create clear value perception to its users. So the company should communicate its brand in term of value proposition that gives best alternatives among similar product or services.

    Everything will always change because everything is changing. Every single component is connected. Disruption in human needs priorities and disruption of new technology will create new balance. 

    Since the invention of the wheel to the internet, speed is the keyword. Human always want more and more. Technology is making everything possible. But technology also creates problems. Both human motivations and technology should be managed. Distinction is necessary for one who want to focus on managing one of the two. 

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