• Transform magazine
  • April 24, 2019

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The relationship machinery

Relationship_transform-blog_Stefan-Luite.jpg
SIMON SMITH – 8 MAY 2014

To paraphrase an iconic movie franchise, relationships are the final frontier. At their core, they are the way we mentally position ourselves in relation to others, both rationally and emotionally.

We connect to cooperate or divide, to love or hate, to dominate or submit, to build or destroy. They are crucial to the success of our species – way more so than sharp claws or a kickass immune system. That’s why we humans have long toiled to develop some sort of machinery with which to handle them better.

For countless aeons, relationships have grown ever more numerous and complex. Leslie Nielsen parodies aside, it really is more complicated to build one today than it was two million years ago. The supporting machinery has gradually grown to include a lot of brain cells that you would know as the prefrontal cortex – the one that makes our foreheads look lumpy in comparison to those of other, hairier primates. Reason is seated there, for the most part. However, since it’s a relative newcomer, this machinery and the reason it dispenses are far from mastering as much of our words and deeds as we would like.

In biology, major upgrades come at a pace that would drive even the most patient brand manager nuts. More depressingly, such upgrades usually stem from catastrophes that otherwise kill a lot of beings, sentient or not. So, for the most part, we make do with just a trickle of minor patches, designed by a quirky, cynical engineer, who gets both his salary and his free coffee flow cut on a regular basis. Think wild, evolutionary pressure, not an omnipotent grump. That’s why these patches are often haphazard, pathetic, inane and ludicrous from an engineering viewpoint. But since most of us are not engineers or designers ourselves, we find them just dandy and we chug along contently, using the resulting contraption for just about anything.

Take thinking, for example – we use that contraption for thinking. It’s certain our hearts don’t actually determine our thinking, but older, more primitive parts of our brain claim a part of that honour. They have the (physical) nerve to do so without asking for any permission from our esteemed prefrontal cortices, who are otherwise in nominal charge. Our reason does not exactly control everything, although it always comes in handy for post-factums approaches to the tune of ”Oops, I did it again! Now let me come up with a rhyming, fancy explanation!”

Brands are relationships. They are, to a large extent, judgements, emotions and memories that determine our actions in regard to others, be they beings or objects. We handle brands with a lumpy, hastily improvised machinery that is, as every science geek will tell you, far from finished evolving. This is our relationship-ship, our RSS Enterprise. That’s what we use to rock and roll. But we need not despair! Because if we take in this harsh reality, if we sincerely accept it, we’ll be in a better position to understand why brands get born, grow, live and die the way they do.

My plan is to make you boldly go that way, one episode after another. With nothing but the said contraption for a helm.