If you Google “existential crisis” and hit the news tab, you’ll find the following listed as currently suffering from one: The United States, the EU, the UK, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the media, Toshiba, Ben Affleck and “The World”. Just to name a few.
More than just a lazy thought piece trend, this appears to be the dominant theme of our current historical moment. If you’ve never had the pleasure – an existential crisis is when an individual questions the very foundations of their life, often pondering under duress whether it has any purpose or meaning. They can happen for many reasons – pulling a hamstring while playing tennis, for instance. Or a really bad hangover. Great art can cause one, so can really bad art.
At one point, Ben Affleck desperately wanted to be Batman. He achieved his dream and became Batman. Now, Ben Affleck no longer wants to be Batman. The thought of being Batman no longer brings him pleasure, and he no longer desires the prestige. The “Batman Ben Affleck” we once knew and cherished is dead, and the post-Batman Ben Affleck is riddled with self-doubt.
A lynchpin of the human condition, existential crisis become more common in times of mass disarray, and they aren’t just limited to moody teens, tortured poets or falling stars. When the world is being pulled in different directions, they can even affect brands, no matter how deep their history or entrenched their identity.
They will make you question your motivation, your audience, and the purpose of your brand itself
And unless you are resolute, your ideals concrete, they will even make you question the very nature of your voice, leading you down the twisted path of analysis paralysis.
In more stable times, let’s say, two years ago, it was a common cliché for marketers to anthropomorphize a brand and imagine what its voice sounded like by placing it in a fictional dinner party scenario.
The brand is envisioned as a person with a place at the table alongside real people.
To help flesh out the voice, a series of questions are asked
Is the brand funny? Is it outspoken? Is it charming? Does it make jokes? What kind of jokes does it make? What kind of food does it like? Does it have good taste in wine? Does it have any dietary concerns? And so on and so forth.
But if you’ve been to a dinner party lately, or a family gathering, or any other IRL situation where people are interacting with one and other, you’ll know this isn’t actually how people behave. Conversations aren’t just a platform for curated monologues, but live, chaotic events that take place between unique personalities that are often in some level of conflict with each other. Sometimes these conflicts are fun, sometimes they are disastrous.
While marketers tend to focus on what the brand will say at the party, they often neglect who they are saying it to
Are they passionate or opinionated? Idealistic? Cynical? What if a political conversation comes up and an argument erupts over Donald Trump or Brexit? What if the party grows calamitous and the conversation gets very heated, leading to vicious arguments and personal attacks?
Would the brand have anything to contribute – would it express a genuine opinion, or would it carefully gauge the feeling in the room and tailor a response to what it thinks the other attendees want to hear? Would it risk alienating half the room by picking a side, or risk coming off like a feckless sycophant by trying to simultaneously patronize everyone at once?
The truth is, while every brand has a voice, very few can actually hold down a conversation with real people
And never has there been a greater opportunity for brands to actually listen to those at the table in order to say something meaningful that will resonate.
If you currently suffering from an existential crisis, embrace it
Questioning what your voice sounds like is the perfect opportunity to stop and listen to those you are trying to speak to and relearn the art of conversation.