Brands were created to make us happy – for a fleeting moment, at any rate. After that moment passed, they trained us to be dissatisfied until we hit the ‘buy’ button again.
This cycle of desire, fulfillment and dissatisfaction worked beautifully in our economy, built as it was on the concept of planned obsolescence.
But lately, something strange has been happening.
Blame it on sustainability or internet-induced transparency. Blame it on people getting fed up with feeling compelled to buy more on smaller paychecks. Blame it on enlightenment.
Today, people want to be makers, or they want to enjoy experiences. Buying new shiny things is starting to look less, well, shiny.
In this context, I wanted to introduce you to John Habibi.
John caught my eye because his business was teaching tech entrepreneurs to close more deals and take more time off. As I spend considerable time with tech entrepreneurs, this promise seemed like the holy grail. Intoxicating, and unreachable.
When I dug a bit deeper, it turned out John was helping many of these entrepreneurs discover happiness through mindfulness and spirituality through meditation. Again, a concept that seemed incongruent with my impression of the average alpha tech entrepreneur.
John and I have had a number of conversations on his practice, and how our yearning for something ‘more’ than material success is changing the face of our society. As a brand specialist, I dug into his thoughts on how mindfulness could destroy brands, or reshape them.
If you’d like to hear the conversation, press play below. If you’d simply like the Coles Notes version, I’ve summarized some of the highlights for you. Either way, enjoy!
BRANDS PROMISE THE FUTURE. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PRESENT?
Habibi said key to attaining happiness was being aware of living in the present. Easy to say, hard to do.
“Society has trained our brains to think in terms of the past or the future. Brands do this by constantly promising happiness just ahead. What’s interesting is if we can discover mindfulness, and use it to find happiness in the moment.”
Not surprisingly, this isn’t easy when you’re dealing with tech entrepreneurs. As Habibi said, men are generally wired to be more goal and action oriented – always striving for more. And men comprise the overwhelming majority of tech entrepreneurs.
“I teach them that happiness is a process – like a marriage. The point is enjoying the results every day, at multiple levels. Happiness comes not from trying to make your marriage better tomorrow, but in making it better moment by moment. To be a happy entrepreneur, you need to figure out how to treat your job the same way.”
This concept is also core to brand thinking. We have created a linear approach to consumption – desire, buy, use, discard. The results have been environmentally disastrous, and haven’t made us very happy in the process.
THE END OF LINEAR CONSUMPTION
Habibi believes this linear approach to consumption is coming to a close.
“Most tech guys are just passionate about what they do. But some of them are coming around to the idea of a circular world. In the same way, authors like Peter Diamantis have shown that we live in a world of abundance – ruling out the brand-centric concept of linear consumption and scarcity.”
According to Diamantis, ‘exponential’ technology unleashes new thinking and ways of getting things done. At this stage, the technology is monetized as it is taken to market. If successful, it creates a wealth of new products at progressively lower prices, until those products are given away – completely demonetized.
Where does this leave brands?
Look at the trajectory of demonetization. Through exponential technology – and our search for happiness beyond consumption – we discover that money cannot buy us spiritual happiness. What we discover all around us (again through technology) is a growing movement toward mindful living. For free.
So where do brands go as we happiness becomes demonetized? That’s the big question.
Habibi believes looking at our current reality and fixating on that to determine the future is like looking in the rearview mirror to drive. Pointless and dangerous.
However, there are some signs of brands in transition as we move toward demonetization.
BRANDS WITH SOMETHING INSIDE
The ultimate experience is created from the inside out. We need to find happiness inside, not in the world around us.
Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign is a good example of this. The athletic equipment manufacturer asserts that we already have everything we need inside us. All Nike wants to do is join us on the journey.
This is a wonderful example of a brand that understands how people on the road to mindfulness think. The further they get from their personal essence, the less happy they’re going to be. The closer they get, the happier.
Rather than signalling doom for brands, Habibi thinks it will be a motherlode of creativity. “If a brand person has to imagine creating a product for people who don’t need products to be happy, imagine the new avenues they could explore!”
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