A few weeks ago my children (ages 3 and 6) gave me a brief respite, playing together quietly enough upstairs in their bedrooms. I settled into a comfy chair with a cup of tea to lose myself in a fantasy that is entirely, absurdly out of reach—The New York Times T Magazine’s Travel Issue, dedicated to the Silk Road.
This was no casual reading experience. I was desperate. I needed this escape to remind myself that other lives—spatially, temporally—exist outside the house I have been trapped in since March 13.
In my work I often use the BASE framework for human motivation to explain why consumers do what they do. BASE stands for Belonging, Appeal, Security, Exploration. We use it to understand what drives motivations in a category, which perceptions drive those motivations, and how brands measure up.
We also use BASE to segment people into five BASE-IC types. Independent Spirits (Exploration + some Security) are curious, brave, unconcerned with what others think of them. Status Seekers (Appeal + some Security) cultivate a high-status appearance and tend to avoid risk. Homebodies (Security + Belonging) are wary of new trends and prioritize the people in their lives. Social Butterflies (Belonging + Appeal) are outgoing and relationship focused. And Outward Bounders (Exploration + Belonging) are outgoing, want to learn new things, meet new people, and push the limits without regard for what people think of them.
In the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, many brands and advertisers were quick to tap into Security and Belonging. “We’re here for you.” “Things are uncertain but we can help you feel better.” “We’ll get through this together.”
Like much of the viewing public, over time I grew weary of these efforts. They all sound the same: bland, trite, sometimes absurd (really EmergenC?). After watching this clip reel mocking them, my husband and I now crack up every time one of these commercials show up in our Hulu stream.
I am an Outward Bounder. I am motivated by Exploration — doing, seeing, experiencing new things, meeting new people. When I went into quarantine, many of the things I do to feel like myself both big (e.g., travel) and small (walk different paths through Manhattan each day to work) disappeared overnight.
Hanya Yanagihara elegantly articulates in her Letter from the Editor that a deep dive into the Silk Road is, yes, a reminder of our interconnectedness (Belonging). But more importantly, it reminds us that in spite of this pandemic and all the pandemics the Silk Road witnessed itself, the road perseveres.
“But through all of these horrors….The need to discover new things and new people, to look down the road ahead, continued. What else could they do, those long-dead travelers? They could no more ignore what they desired than they could unlearn what centuries of exploration and interaction had taught them. The only way through was forward.”
What I need — and, likely, the other one-fifth of the population who are also Outward Bounders need — are brands that help me cope with the Exploration I’m missing. For the few glorious minutes that I had, this issue of The New York Times helped me get in touch with that part of myself. And I love them more for it.
One of the reasons marketers segment consumers is to create targeted, meaningful messages for a distinct group of people who might actually care. As the COVID rollercoaster continues, brands that serve up platitudes will struggle to stay along for the ride. Brands that quickly re-center around the new demand and double down on their reason for being stand a chance at creating deeper, lasting brand relationships that are even more meaningful for having tapped into a heightened need to get back to our true selves.