Does your business have a desired self?

In psychology there is a concept of an ideal self – an idealised and aspirational version of oneself that encompasses ambitions, dreams, traits, and behaviours the person would like to possess. Marketers explore their audiences’ ideal selves because it helps them find shortcuts to creating emotional connections. In this context the word ‘ideal’ has always bothered me. If people’s happiness depends on achieving their illusionary ideal self, wouldn’t many of them be setting themselves up for failure and disappointment?

I was once asked to moderate a number of focus groups with Eastern European women on the subject of laundry detergents. When I asked them about their dreams, they corrected me and said, “We don’t believe in dreams, they are intangible and not realising them is disappointing. We believe in realistic goals because they are attainable. It brings you a lot of satisfaction when you achieve one and can set the next one.” That is when I became a big believer in the desired self – a desirable and attainable future version of an individual that he or she aspires to become. Generally, it is a better, more successful, more fulfilled, healthier, and happier self that makes you think “Yes, I really like and want to be that person. And I can!”

A lot of human concepts are adapted to brand building – purpose, identity, assets, equity, to name a few. The idea of desired self works for brands too. Recently, we have seen brands refocus from unattainable and infinitely long-term vision statements (ideal self) to purposeful, more urgent and realistic ambitions (desired self).

For example, we no longer see the famous Lexus slogan “The relentless pursuit of perfection”. It originated from the idea that perfection is unachievable but only through continuous improvement and commitment to excellence the brand could get as close to it as possible.

Today, Lexus focuses on creating tangible experiences that excite their drivers every day, which is captured by their new tagline “Experience amazing”. It clearly reflects a shift in the brand’s ambition and the role it wants to play in people’s lives.

The core elements of desired self for a brand are: brand purpose (reasons to exist beyond profit), impact (the difference the brand wants to make in people’s lives on a daily basis), vision (how success looks like in the observable future), and culture (a distinctive way of doing things that the team believes in and follows). The key engines behind a brand’s desired self are its values (beliefs that motivate attitudes and actions), personality (a set of traits and behaviours), and mission (how the brand achieves its purpose).

A brand’s well-articulated desired self shared with the team and consumers, can bring a suite of benefits that accelerate growth. I call these the 5 C’s:

1. Clarity in what the brand wants to stand for, in small and big wins with the audiences in the short and medium term, and in messaging for effective communication. Clarity leads to focus and focus leads to improved productivity.

2. Confidence in making strategic choices, exploring new opportunities, and telling the brand story. Confidence makes decisions easier and attracts followers.

3. Consistency in communication and behaviour that strengthens the brand image and allows focus on quality of experience differentiating your brand from others. Since a brand is often defined as the totality of all experiences it provides, consistency is key to brand building.

4. Culture – distinctive, strong, contagious and rewarding. Creating a strong culture should be a priority.

5. Community – successful brands manage to build active brand communities based on shared values and priorities. I agree that customer’s participation is “the next big thing after loyalty”.

To add value to a business, its desired self has to be clearly articulated, written down, and shared with brand communities internally and externally. One in three business owners that I have worked with would initially say “It’s all in my head, I know where we need to go and how we will get there”. I say that isn’t good enough because everyone needs to know where they are going and what their roles are. Besides, when you keep it to yourself, priorities keep changing and it is harder to get your team to commit.

If you want to make a real difference to your performance, productivity and profitability, you need a clear desired self that is realistic, and can motivate and inspire the team.


By Olga Kudryashova, Co-founder of Desired Self. We provide brand, business and leadership development to founders and professionals.

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