Marketers know that people gravitate toward brands they relate to, and respond to marketing and advertising messages that in some way mirror their lives.

Essentially, consumers will better connect with a brand if they see themselves reflected in that brand's marketing messages.

So, how can brands continue to relate to the identity of their customers when the way those customers see themselves inevitably changes?

The Way People Perceive Themselves Can Be Fluid

The way people view themselves and their identity is changing.

Decades ago, the main marketing differentiators were based on traditional groupings—race, religion, nationality, gender... Often, marketing messages were simply tailored to one of two groups: males or females.

Now, especially among younger people, non-gender-specific products, like gender-neutral fragrances, skin care, and clothing, are becoming more popular.

Identity is a tricky thing. It is often constructed according to context.

For example, in a group of parents waiting to pick up their children from preschool, a person may be hyper-tuned to their role as a dad. But, when at work, that same person might not speak about their child very much at all. That doesn't mean that person is any less of a father when in the boardroom, or any less of a business professional when painting pictures with his four-year-old.

We reflect different sides of ourselves depending on our environment. That doesn't mean people are being inauthentic; they are simply more in tune with different layers or facets of themselves.

Consumers are perceiving themselves as someone who is multilayered, fluid, evolving. Moreover, generally speaking, there's less of a need for people to define themselves at all. For marketers, this means the beloved persona is more difficult to define.

In fact, the idea of the most commonly targeted customer persona in identity marketing is less relevant than ever. In many cases, brands need to dig deeper into who their audiences are, how they're different, and how they change over time.

Influencers and Identity Marketing

More and more brands are relying on influencers to push their messages. And fully 89% of marketers who have used influencer marketing have found the ROI of influencer marketing comparable to or better than that of other marketing channels.

People are attracted to influencers for various reasons, but one of them is that they can see pieces of themselves—or who they'd like to be—in the influencers they follow.

Most Instagram influencers will post sponsored content, often affiliated with consumer brands. People who are following these influencers—who already see their own self-image reflected in this person—may see the ad and choose to buy the product. Often, because they're not just seeing the product as a thing, but a form of self-expression. Their purchase can reassure them of who they are and outwardly indicate that to others, too.

Chasing the Changing Identity

Because someone's self-image can change both depending on the people they're around and generally over time (maybe they progress from identifying as a student, to a business professional, to a parent, all within a decade), brands' approach to targeting customers must change, too.

An important way to do that is to evolve where you target customers. If there's a new social media platform popular with the crowd you used to find on Facebook, try the new platform.

As always, testing is the best way to see whether a medium is a fit for a particular audience. Track and analyze performance of ads. If a particular ad misses the mark, ask questions: Was the premise of the ad memorable enough? Funny enough? Did it feature actors of the right age group or occupation? Do we truly know who this audience is and what they value?

A consistent brand message is important, but marketers must take contextualization into account so their messages can be adapted to the evolving identities of its target consumer groups.

A more flexible identity marketing strategy should be implemented for a brand to remain relevant as people move from one persona to another, all while understanding that not every person will take the same path.

* * *

It was only a few decades ago that a person's identity was determined based on a few traditional groupings. Now, the way people view themselves has changed: People are tapping into the realization that who they are is not set in stone and not determined by society.

Brands should take heed and accordingly tailor and personalize identity marketing and advertising content. By doing so, they will retain their most loyal followers and gain greater share of the marketplace along the way.

More Resources on Identity Marketing

What Are You Going to Do About Your Outdated B2B Buyer Personas?

Segmentation Models Are Outdated: How to Update Your Marketing Segmentation Practices

Keep Consumers From Cheating on You: Foster a Community to Stay Together

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image of Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is the president of Bradley and Montgomery (BaM), an independent creative agency that has provided marketing services for JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, and Xbox, among other brands.

LinkedIn: Mark Bradley