Social Research – Brand Evolution and Meaning Through Horchata
Etymology is the study of the history of words. Words, just like everything else, have a history. They evolve, they change and they come to mean different things to different people. Take the word “Thong” for instance. Not many people would like to see me in a thong…let alone borrow a thong from me. But, in the 80’s, thong meant something else entirely. It referred to a “flip-flop”. The idea of me in an ’80’s defined thong is much less repulsive. Borrowing someone’s thong to run to the store wasn’t socially frowned on and it was perfectly acceptable to run out your front door…to your mailbox…in your mother’s thongs.
More years ago than I’d like to admit, I had a professor in graduate school who was an expert in the history of meaning and how meanings come to be defined. His name was James Aho and he’s written a number of books on varying topics ranging from politics, accounting, enemies, health, how we experience our bodies, how we experience the world, etc. I learned an important thing from him…that the way we experience our world and the meaning we assign to things in our world differ according to our culture, our family, our past life experiences, our politics, our country, our religion, the list goes on and on. Even systematic professions like the medical industry and accounting have relevant social meanings that are different for different people. What is considered “healthy” and “acceptable practice” has changed over time, differs according to current trends, and can be impacted by marketing.
The food pyramid is a prime example. In the first three minutes of a search on the food pyramid I found a pyramid for Vegans, Native Americans, Vegetarians, Low Carbians (All you can eat meat), and Diabetics. My son has a t-shirt that includes the food pyramid and only includes types of pizza. I even found a zombie food pyramid.
The simple food pyramid of the ’90’s evolved out of the notion of “food groups” (carbohydrates, protein, dairy, fats, vitamins, fiber, and minerals) and into the “new food pyramid” published in 2005 with an expectation of a re-release of an even “newer” food pyramid in 2010. To complicate things, many different countries have their own version of the food pyramid…you may be healthy in one area of the world, but not in another. Isn’t it just food? Is there JUST food?
Brands operate the same way and evolve over time. What’s the meaning of a brand? You come to define who you are as a person by the brands you consume…or is it the other way around…the brands you consume come to define you as a person. We’ve all seen (or written) the market research survey that asks what a specific consumer product means to you in characteristics that make very little sense to the physical make-up of the product but get to the bottom of the meaning of the brand. What product comes to mind when you hear these trigger words? Different products and meanings come to mind for different people.
- Socially Conscious
Brands invoke feelings and meanings…feelings of nostalgia for the past and anticipation for the future. I may drink a certain type of soda because I want to feel happy all year round. I purchase my domain names from specific vendors so that I can hang around attractive women and look cool (even if I’m a disheveled IT guy). I drive certain types of vehicles so that people will see me as active. If I feel like I’m doing these things than, in essence, am I not these things. Who wouldn’t want to be happy, active and attractive?
Finally, my fourteen year old son had a recent experience that really illustrated this point to me. The other day at a restaurant he filled his drink cup with Horchata. It was the first time he’d ever done that and seemed like a simple act. Many of you have probably consumed Horchata and may do it with some regularity. The meaning of the act, for him, was much different than the meaning you apply to drinking Horchata. You may like how it tastes, you may come from a culture who has a background in Horchata consumption, you may drink it to offset spicy food. My son does not.
My son identifies with all things alternative. We are from the US, but my father lived in Wales through his young adult years. My son has grown up watching EPL (English Premier League) football (soccer for those in the US) and particularly identifies with the Chelsea Football Club/Brand instead of an American football, basketball, or baseball team. He plays soccer instead of American football, and is submerged in the soccer culture. He has long hair (instead of the typical “short” cut typical of Salt Lake City) and listens to alternative music. So, how does he make the connection to his identification with all things alternative and Horchata? He listens to a New York originating band called Vampire Weekend. They sing a song called Horchata. Through some meaning that he’s defined to his limited life experience, consuming Horchata connects him to what he likes best…all things alternative. He now consumes Horchata because that is who he is.
What does your brand say about you? Whether you provide consumer products, business to business services, or you’re a market research company, your company brand says something and means something to those around you. Do you know what your company…what your brand means, what your customer’s experience is, what they view themselves to be when they use your products and services? If you don’t know, I would suggest that you ask.