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Brand status in pandemic times

Status is the position one holds in society. Originally derived from the Latin statum, past participle of stare, to stand.

In a broader and more relevant sense, status refers to the value and importance you have in the eyes of the world. We can say that we have two identities: who we say we are and what we think other people think we are, the version of ourselves that plays in the status hierarchy league. Now, as we are much more interconnected we are constantly recalibrating our external perception, a game that can lead to great internal imbalances, especially among younger people.

Every society has accorded status to different groups of people. For example, in ancient Greece only free men could have status; women and slaves were left out of the equation. Nowadays the most common meaning is to grant status to financial, card, cv or in the worst case, simple celebrity achievements.

Alain de Botton, the founder of The School of Life, in his book “Status Anxiety” develops the theme of anxiety provoked by the imaginary of success in our society and the anguish of not achieving it. Anxiety, he says, is triggered by, among others, recession, unemployment, the promotions of others, retirement, conversations with professional colleagues, people who stand out, or the perceived success of people you know. The perceived success of others gives us an ugly feeling, much like envy, which we normally repress.

What the book is saying is that we need signs of respect from others for our own mental health. It analyses its causes and possible solutions and summarises our adult life as the search for two great love stories: sexual love and the love of the world. We are heartbroken when we discover that in the eyes of the world we are nobody. We doubt our own worth, we feel that we are not enough, because our ego is like a helium balloon that continually needs external love to remain inflated and is vulnerable to neglect.

Status and personal branding

Our personal brand is like an onion. We launch ourselves into the world with countless layers that protect us from the scrutiny of others, from the image we think we project.

Like almost everything else, if we dig a little deeper we come across our childhood and our family environment. What was valued and what was not, what happened, what was our place in the family and at school, what was the economic situation, what you lacked, what you rebelled against and countless other circumstances that forge our character.  At some point we all felt that we were not enough, that we could not offer anything extraordinary. And this was set against our desire to shine, to be at the centre, to be visible, to occupy a position of “responsibility”. Society and social media do not help because examples are constantly promoted that make us think that our life is worthless in comparison with others. 

In these pandemic times in which it is increasingly difficult to make a living, let alone get ahead, we all suffer to a greater or lesser extent from this malaise. But silently.  It is a stress associated with where we sit on the socio-economic ladder and a mobility that has become astronomically difficult for everyone. 

“We are living an existence akin to that of pre-cooked rice in a plastic bag: we are cut off from the world and in some kind of container” I read in an article in The Guardian.

The daily death count has made us think more than ever about our own extinction. Measuring our worth in relation to our own death and the need to seize the moment, the famous classical carpe diem theme, is something the great poets have always reminded us of:

Go, pluck now from the spring of your delight
the sweetest fruit, before the angry years
can wrap the lovely peak in snowy scenes.

The icy wind will cause the rose to wilt,
and all things will be changed by fickle time,
so as to never change its own routine.

                     (©Alix Ingber, 1995)

say the last two stanzas of a beautiful sonnet by Garcilaso de la Vega, the great Spanish Renaissance poet

On 18 February 2021, the Perseverance spacecraft landed on Mars and such an event should put us all in perspective: we are nothing in the vastness of the universe. And we should also let ourselves be affected by the “overview effect” that so excited the astronauts when they saw the globe for the first time: “What really struck me was that [the Earth] projected an air of fragility. And I don’t know why. I don’t know to this day. I had a sense that it’s small, it’s bright, it’s beautiful, it’s a home, and it’s fragile.” Michael Collins, Apollo XI

And yet, the tingle of status (whatever that is) is still there.

And consumer society doesn’t help because it bases its success on never being enough of what you are or what you have.

Product branding and status.

Nowadays, anyone can own a handbag, a watch or a pair of shoes, but specific brands of handbags, watches and shoes are a distinctive feature for certain classes of consumers and this “branding” can be more or less obvious. Branding your products with a very large logo so that everyone knows that you wear a luxury brand is long gone. The proof of this is the ease with which millions of copies have proliferated around the world and are sold on every street corner.

And what about replicas? Inditex is the king of replicas of original catwalk models. Does wearing a Zarucci give you status?

Material possessions, whether we want them to or not, are intertwined with our identity, they speak of us, our tastes and our social position, they are status symbols. What do brands say about you? Much more than you think. That you are rich, that you are famous, that you are trendy, that you are foodie, that you are cool, that you are avant-garde, that you are young, that you are cultural, that you belong to a tribe, that you are altruistic, that you are intelligent, that you are individualistic, that you are self-confident or that you are not stupid…. There are brands that in themselves are status symbols because they grant popularity to a certain community.

But what is really brand status now?

To achieve brand status is to mean something important in someone’s life.

Buying sustainable brands gives us status. On the most superficial level it calms our eco-anxiety. As one customer said, it helps us tick the “I help the world with my consumption” box.  There are more and more brands with a purpose. It is already within our reach to buy local, chemical-free food, to choose a 100% renewable energy power company, to manage our money with ethical banking, to dress with slow fashion brands or to buy a fairphone and repair it as many times as necessary instead of the latest iphone model.

In conclusion

Perhaps great wealth comes from aspiring to very little, from being satisfied with what you have, from having enough to lead a dignified life. 

With dignity guaranteed, the trick is to discover your real life expectations and what are the ones that the context has imposed on you. Your freedom within the cards that life has handed you.

I am convinced that the best way to stop feeling status anxiety is to change your focus. Stop navel-gazing and focus on what you can do for the world, on your entrepreneurship.

And when you do it, remember the basics, what gave birth to it. Your purpose, your values, your principles. What you must never compromise. Take pride in putting them to work. Get out of your house, out of your coworking, out of your office and go meet the real world (which will hopefully be safe very soon). Sit down with people who think differently. Think about what human needs you want to address and what your business is really about. Set yourself impossible moon-shot goals and this will keep you motivated to achieve much more than you initially set out to do.

And without looking for it, by no longer wanting to measure your worth against others, society will grant you the status you deserve.