After a bout of extreme chocolate eating mixed with intense gin drinking, I woke up this Saturday with what can only be described as self-loathing.
A quick perusal of social media confirmed that I was the only person in the universe who wasn’t in the gym, or doing some improbable form of exercise and that if I was to continue using the badge ‘millennial’ then I should sort my shit out immediately.
And thus we begin this week’s blog with a lesson in herd behavior.
The first lesson came as I donned my trainers, grabbed my phone and proceeded to take a quick trainer selfie as I warmed up to confirm to the world that I too was one of the gang.
Limping along towards Greenwich Park, I contemplated my decision with less enthusiasm. This ‘clean living’ herd was mesmerizing to look at but would ultimately throw you under a bus if it got the chance and I was suffering.
“Cognitive biases may lead to herding because, for many reasons including cognitive constraints, environmental cues and/or framing effects, individuals may be following the ill-judged decisions of a group”
(Tversky & Kahneman 1974; Baddeley et al. 2005).
Lesson 1: Don’t join herds on a whim after lots of gin
My second herd lesson came once I’d entered the park and I noticed an unusually large number of joggers all of whom seemed to be wearing either pink or blue. Initially confused as to how I had missed this important clothing memo, I soon realised that there was an organised run going on, complete with officials and cheering supporters.
As I casually loped round I encountered said runners a number of times. On every occasion a marshal would frantically wave me in another direction in an attempt to help me re-join the flock that I was apparently straying from.
If I’m honest, I was quite enjoying the whole thing.
It is a rare thing to be cheered on for having a hangover so despite the fact that I had literally no right to be there, I was basking in the reflective glow of people clapping madly and yelling:
“Great Job!!!!” “Keep it up!”
It was like I had my own cheer squad.
All well and good until I came toward the home stretch. At this point all that stood between me and home was a 100m stretch of park. Unhappily this also coincided with the finish line of the race.
I had enjoyed the cheering but even I felt like crossing the finish line would be overstating my participation.
But finish line or not, the gin had taken its toll. I was at the end. No amount of cheering could make me run the extra mile required to bypass this line. Added to which a really officious race marshal was determined to get me this time.
And here is where the lesson in herds really comes home to roost.
I was running believing that as I had no race number and was not dressed in pink or blue that I was clearly not part of this herd.
Obviously unsuspecting officials would quickly come to the conclusion that I was just a tired, hungover woman trying to rid herself of self-loathing, not a fit worthy person trying to improve themself and raise money for good causes all in one joyous bundle of awesomeness.
I would clearly stand out as a non-participant happily minding my own business and be allowed to carry on crucially around and not through the finish line.
As it turns out the entry point to looking like part of the herd is pretty low.
As I attempted to traverse this crew of runners, I was shepherded against my will into and across the finish line and was promptly handed a medal (instantly posted a ‘crossed the finish line with a medal!’ selfie of course.)
Lesson 2: In a herd you are invisible
The thing with brands is that by virtue of being part of a category, you are already agreeing to be part of a herd.
If you want a biscuit, the biscuit aisle should provide you with biscuits.
If you want a phone, the pre-requisite is being a phone.
For most people, simply being part of a category is their biggest way of telling you apart. I know biscuits are different from phones for example.
Beyond that it all gets a bit mushy. Like me believing strongly that just because I wasn’t wearing pink or blue or wearing a race number that I would standout.
Here’s an example I’ve had recently.
I’ve had iPhones for ages but Apple have become quite frankly duller than a dull thing of late, so for the first time in ages I’ve considered venturing beyond their omnipotent forces.
I was open to change, ready for newness, excited by the idea of different!
Cue phone shop. Hideous sales pitches and walls of handsets that look identical but are described as ‘revolutionary’, ‘game changing’ and ‘radical’.
I don’t care what they say, or how many edges it has, if it is rectangular, if it is metal, with glass touch-screen and is predominantly set up to stream stuff, not really make calls but use whatsapp then it is part of the herd called ‘smartphone’.
Snow blinded by the lack of distinctiveness I left the shop empty handed, only to order a new iPhone online later that day – it’s just easier.
The thing I learnt from my hungover run this weekend was this:
If as a brand or person you want to be part of a herd, it’s not that hard. A 4 year old could do it.
It is easy to look and behave like everyone else and if that is your objective you will easily collect your medal, with very few questions asked.
But most brands don’t just want to be part of the herd. Most briefs we get talk about differentiation, standout, distinctiveness or unique selling points.
The truth is that working in brand, most of the things that we call ‘distinctive’ are little more than herd attributes.
Like those race marshals – for most normal people they just see the mass not the specific. The entry point to being part of the herd is pretty low and in a herd you are invisible.