Somatic identity

It has long been recognised that powerful brands give expression to personal identity. Recent research into personal identity using somatic metaphors show how somatic identity can help marketers connect at an emotional level and provide a basis for influencing customer predispositions and choices. Research is finding that people choose brands, packs and product features that feel familiar and what is familiar is very appealing (see Dr. Max Sutherland’s article: Mind on High, Thoughts on Fast Forward and Brands on Speed)

The construct of somatic identity is adapted from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s framework. Somatic or somatic-emotional identity lies deep within the subconscious. Somatic identity relates to a tendency to lock into a certain bodily or sensory reality that becomes identified as the self. This experience of self is observable in repeated patterns of how we physically react to the world.

The brain focuses on its own body which becomes its somatic reality which in turn provides a strong sense of who we are as individuals.

To understand this idea, imagine the slouching shoulders of a young teenage girl hiding behind a fringe, gravitating to the back of the classroom and seeking the emotional comfort of hibernating under the doona in the bedroom. This pervading downward physical orientation to the world is linked to how this ‘Still water’girl sees herself. Somatic identity also provides an overriding metaphor for interpreting and responding to many aspects of the world around her. For example, some things are experienced as being ‘over the top’ or ‘too out there’ and just basically ‘not me’. 
We are finding that these ways of experiencing the world relate to our feelings about a wide variety of objects in it, including those of interest to marketers. Just as some people might see this Necker cube (right) from the top, bottom, left or right – consumers lock into a way of experiencing the world of marketing and reacting to its offers.

Neuroscience is offering new perspectives on emotions, consciousness and decision making. Antonio Damasio’s initial aim was to understand emotions. This led him to deal with consciousness and identity formation. Put very simply, our identities originate in the body and our sense of self is based on mappings of bodily experiences. Our somatic or bodily experiences are also intimately involved with our emotions. Importantly, Damasio is probably the first to link identity (sense of self) to our predispositions which has many ramifications for marketers.

‘Bubbling brooks’, ‘Rolling waves’, ‘Flowing streams’ and ‘Still waters’ are four ‘somatic identities’ describing various types of people. According to leading research based insights consultancy INSIDE STORY, somatic identities are highly relevant to all aspects of design – websites, pack, point of sale, creative advertising as well as brand identity. Furthermore, it has potential relevance in direct selling.

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