Individualism vs. Collectivism: The Next Brand Frontier

“Individuality is the new wealth.” — Pharrell Williams

We were struck by these words while watching a recent interview with Pharrell Williams, multi-talented artist and founder of I Am Other; a creative platform for “artists, thinkers and outcasts.”

As we think about the advent of technology and the empowerment of the individual, this sentiment certainly rings true. Especially when we consider all the research conducted on Millennials and Gen Z. So what do these changing views mean for legacy brands — many with monolithic identities and whose CEOs stand at pulpits declaring that they should stand (or chant) united, “We are One [Insert Brand]”?

Perhaps it’s time for these organizations to rethink the way they engage their people and partners. Some, not all, technology companies can serve as exemplars in this new world. From Snapchat to Google, these organizations understand that it’s no longer about brand as “big tent,” but rather brand as “platform” for the individual voice.

It’s this shift in mindset — the growing desire for individualism and a growing distrust of top-down institutions — that explains even the most polarizing current events, from Bernie to Brexit, Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter, Trump to Terrorism, and everything in between. It also explains the rise of platform-based brands, such as Snapchat, Airbnb and Blue Apron, popularity of participatory events/experiences, like the Ice Bucket and 22 Push Up Challenges, as well as the decline of top-down organizations such as Yahoo!, Carlson and Macy’s.

But, as we consider the unifying power of global events such as the Rio Olympics, we still can’t help but remember that individuality doesn’t mean isolation. It simply means freedom to self-express, self-direct and self-empower, while still experiencing a sense of belonging. In the context of the Olympics, we see the celebration and convergence of individual, national and global identities.

So, as we consider the challenge facing organizations and brand-building today — and in the future — it’s important to listen to those blazing trails in this new frontier of individuality together with community.

  • “Individualism is the wealth. Experiences are the new assets.” — Pharrell Williams
  • “Be together. Not the same.” — Android
  • “It’s better to have 100 people love you than to have 1,000,000 like you.” — Brian Chesky, CEO, Airbnb
  • “Social media is about friending someone so they’ll invite you to a party or get you a job. If that’s the work, Snapchat is the playground.” — Evan Spiegel, Co-Founder and CEO, Snapchat
  • “When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else.” —Iris Apfel, Fashion Icon