Apex desires

Part of what can make an “invitation to buy into” powerful is if it’s something people already want.

For example:

  • Earn more money
  • Stop overworking (without reducing earnings)
  • Manage people better
  • Gain mental clarity and calm
  • Make better decisions
  • Hold a coffee cup with both hands while an autumnal breeze blows through your hair and the light from the setting sun caresses your face

I’m kidding about the last one, but there are lots of things that we humans already want. Nobody has to tell us we should want these things or explain why they are valuable.

Maybe we call them apex desires? We could imagine a “5 Why’s” questioning process taking us from “I’d just like this employee to get deliverables to clients on time” (a specific problem) to “I want to earn more money so I can afford a better college education for my kid” (a sort of apex desire).

When thinking about the idea that’s at the center of your brand, sometimes there’s a tension because the idea we’d like people to buy into is related to something people already want, but it’s further down the “value chain”.

Using myself as an example: I’d like indie consultants to buy into the idea that they can cultivate valuable, somewhat rare expertise and build that expertise into a business asset that frees them from downward price pressure and the boom/bust cycle that can accompany a platform specialization. This idea is not at the apex of a “value chain” — it’s somewhat downstream. Not far downstream, but also not an apex desire like “more money” or “more free time”, etc.

The tension: do I make the idea of “make more money as an indie consultant” the center of my brand colosseum, or do I stick with “build an expertise moat”?

A Google search for universal human desires is wallpapered with results for Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Action and Define Our Personalities, a book by Steven Reiss. There are other lists of 7 or 10 basic human desires as well.

In a simplistic sense, if every indie consultant brand was focused on one of Steven Reiss’ apex desires, then the entire world of possibilities would be defined by 16 x 422 = 6,752. (422 is the number of sub-subcategories defined in the NAICS system). “More Money for Household Laundry Equipment Manufacturers”, “Reduced Workload for Reinsurance Carriers”, etc.

Those made-up examples strike me as ridiculous-sounding. This gets me thinking that the most interesting and fertile territory for brand-building lies in between the apex desire and the specific instruments you use to help clients change or improve.

I think what I’m grasping at here is this: most humans seem to be, at some level, already bought into a set of desires — my so-called apex desires. Maybe we weren’t born in this pre-bought-in state, but we grow up in a homogeneous-enough culture that a whole lot of us end up buying into the idea that more money than we have now would be good, a more comfortable, spacious house than we have now would be good, etc.

Maybe the purpose of a powerful brand is to create and monetize “conversion experiences” for people, where they move from not bought in to bought in because this state change represented by the buy-in creates a relationship between them and the brand?

Ending this email before I start speculating about brand-as-religion or brand-as-cult. 🙂


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