I had a friend introduce me recently to the Russian-American writer Ayn Rand who developed her own philosophical system she called Objectivism. It has been interesting to learn about it and it has certainly questioned what I knew about human behaviour. Fundamentally, I believe that the more I can understand human behaviour the more I can understand how decisions are made, (in particular what are all the thought processes that lead to decisions being made). As a marketer my role is to help businesses build trust and make connections with their right audiences starting at brand level. We need to understand how these audiences make their decisions so we can support how they like to buy. So all of these new perspectives and theories I think make me a better marketer. So let’s dig into what Objectivism is.
Question: What is Objectivism?
Answer: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” — Ayn Rand
The name “Objectivism” derives from the idea that human knowledge and values are objective: they exist and are determined by the nature of reality, to be discovered by one’s mind, and are not created by the thoughts one has.
Here is a summary of the fundamental areas that make up Objectivism and my thoughts on each and how we can use (or not) in our marketing.
REALITY & REASON
Ayn Rand’s philosophy, begins by embracing the basic fact that existence exists. Reality is ‘what it is’ and in our quest to live in this world we must learn how to be successful in it. Reality is not to be rewritten or escaped from, but proudly, faced.
This means: choose to face the facts at all times, in all areas, whether at work or at home or in business — and no matter what conclusion logically ensues, whether pleasant or unpleasant.
The goal to embracing reality in Objectivism is to take out all emotion, remove any links to faith and any forms of authoritarianism that we may use for guidance through life.
What an interesting concept! I can certainly see how this could serve us on a personal level. Making tough decisions can be hard. If we make them based on emotion alone, we could feel we haven’t explored all options. eg. what if you had a loved one lying in a hospital bed, they were on a ventilator that was keeping them alive. You had to make the decision as to what to do next? Deep down emotionally you would know what you had to do, but you would insist on wanting to know the facts – what could be done, what could you try?
Only with all the factual information could you feel you could make the best decision. Emotion had to be removed to get to an answer. There is benefit in having control over rational thinking and this ability has got to help us reduce anxiety in our lives!
BUT, from a marketing context I don’t agree with the philosophy that we only embrace facts. Knowing what I know about human buying behaviour, I have always believed buying decisions are always made in the unconscious brain. They are based most of the time on a ‘gut instinct’ and are more about how we ‘feel’ about the purchase. Do I trust the brand, do I like the sales person, do I believe this product or service will give me what I need?
To me buying decisions are always based on the fulfilment of a need (that we are mostly unconscious to) and so no amount of rational thinking will help us see this. An example that I give regularly is the guy who purchases the expensive Rolex watch. He would tell you that he made the decision to buy the watch because he had always wanted one, justifying the purchase by describing this feature and this benefit. But the ‘need’ he is most likely fulfilling on is a ‘need’ for recognition of his success. That he can afford such a watch!
The science tells us that this buying decision was actually made in the unconscious mind as a way to fulfil on this ‘need’ for recognition. He then simply rationalised the purchase, to make it right!
There is a common belief that getting all the information up-front before buying something brings a sense of security and certainly the more you have trained your mind to work rationally, there is truth in this. For marketing to cater for both audiences my general rule of thumb is first connect with emotion then follow through with factual information. More factual information will be needed the more expensive the item is.
Rand defines morality as “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” Rand maintained that the first question is not what should the code of values be, the first question is “Does man need values at all—and why?” According to Rand, “it is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”
This means as Rand wrote, “Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive he must act and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action.
On a personal level this is true. There are many who don’t take actions that contribute to their survival. The guy who risks his life by drink driving is not the smartest of decisions, and there could be a lesson learned if there is a crash and the driver survives perhaps. We all learn quickly that if we don’t feed our bodies, we start to feel weak and light headed. By eating we learn to importance of sustenance and that is something we can control to be at our best.
Self interest is a focus in Objectivism, if you work hard you will achieve a life of purpose, you individually are the one in control of your happiness, no one else is, are all central themes and I agree with all of them to a point. We must in life as I like to say ‘carry our own bags’.
However I don’t believe we are all born with a blank slate (or tabula rasa) on which we learn and then create values from which we use to shape our lives. Being an avid student of Jung he believed that we are not born with a blank slate, we are instead born with understandings as to what certain personalities are (he called them archetypes). eg. as babies we understand the role of the mother figure in our life. Therefore we already have predetermined values and expectations on the world, others and even ourselves, that we question and may even change or evolve as we experience life.
Survival I think is instinctual, we look for food and require shelter to emotionally feel safe for example, it is not something we need to rationalise the importance of doing before actioning. If there is a bear chasing us, we don’t stand there and think of all the pros and cons, we just run!
So when we are marketing to the fulfilment of human ‘needs’ we do so with emotion, using words and pictures that paint pictures in the minds of the audience about the outcomes that the use of the products or services will provide. eg. If you were marketing a business that was selling deadbolts for homes, you are selling security and fulfilling on a need for safety for a family. So we would show a picture of a happy couple holding a baby standing outside of their home. This sort of image shows vulnerability and highlights why safety is important.
Research has shown this approach is more successful as it builds an emotional connection with the target market, much more than a picture of a deadbolt ever will. Overlay that with a Rebel brand that is selling those deadbolts, who is advocating in their marketing about how families should be able to feel safe in their own homes. There you have a campaign that connects with an audience of parents with young families who need to feel safe.
Emotion is important and where buying decisions are made. Removing emotion and only applying rational features and benefits will never give you the same results.
So what has Objectivism taught me?
In the context of marketing and brand strategy, I think human behaviour is complex and can’t simply be captured with one philosophical system. We are complex characters and the ways in which we think or have been conditioned to think vary greatly. What morality means to each of us plays a bigger role than I realised, as it shapes our behaviour. I believe there is a need for emotion and varying levels of rational thinking to occur by individuals as part of their decision making process. When crafting marketing messages we need to be sure we are catering for both.
Are you wanting to be challenged on your thinking and that of the ideal customers you are selling to? Please get in touch, we are here to help.
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