Wharton professor Jonah Berger, author of the new book Invisible Influencers, says we all seek to be “optimally distinct” (Tweet it!). This means “being sufficiently yourself so your actions don’t violate your identity or integrity, but also enough like the peer group you admire to gain its members’ acceptance.”
Berger says we send out signals—sometimes via brands we choose— that we hope will be interpreted correctly by people with whom we identify. Yet, we want those signals to be subtle enough that they’ll be missed by the people we don’t want to read them.
Being optimally distinct can be tricky. If something gets “too popular,” we might reject it because too many other people mimic each other in praising or purchasing it. We might also reject a product of brand because someone we dislike embraces it. In 2010, actress Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of the reality TV show Jersey Shore—received a free Gucci handbag in the mail. At the height of her fame, marketers sent Polizzi a lot of free merchandise, but In this case, a Gucci competitor sent the bag— knowing if she was seen carrying it, the perceived value of Gucci bags would drop among sophisticated buyers. Her castmate Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino entered a reverse endorsement deal with Abercrombie & Fitch. For reasons like those of Gucci’s sneaky rival, it paid him never to wear its clothes!
Do you think your brand preferences are shaped, at least in part, by wanting to identify—or not identify—with a certain type of group? Is this something you have consciously thought about before? To join the conversation, click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion.