Identity marketing is the strategy of defining your target audience, not by their habits, job or other generalist demographics, but by how they see themselves — their core identity.

As humans, we all seek to define ourselves and in doing so create conscious and subconscious requirements to make that definition clearer to ourselves and the rest of the world. The woman in the tailored suit with her hair tied back in an aggressive ponytail, carrying an expensive briefcase may define herself as a “no-nonsense businesswoman.” But it’s not enough to forge an identity through clothing and mannerisms, an identity must be constantly deepened and enhanced for it to survive and flourish. For our businesswoman, a subscription to the Harvard Business Review, a black Audi, and a name brand watch may be on her wish list. Perhaps a golf membership to further networking opportunities, a partner who understands her motivations, or a home that is minimalistic and efficient.

Obviously, this example is an oversimplification. People are multilayered and have commitments, needs and wants beyond a singular identity, but at the core of this is the sense of self that is associated with the reptilian brain. This identity is what makes people leap out of bed in the morning, it’s why people spend more than they can afford on products that make no sense. This identity is the one that sets our soul on fire, makes us start new businesses, write books, and have the courage to introduce ourselves to our heroes.

When we are authentically connected to this identity, we are unstoppable.

But this isn’t a pep talk, it’s a blog about marketing. So how do you associate your service or product with the identity of your target customer?

You make your product or service an idea.

Ideas remove any requirement for the perfect product or service. They change the transaction from being one of barter — here, take this and I’ll take that — to one of membership — join us, you’re the right person.

The list of businesses and organisations that understand and embrace identity marketing is virtually limitless and includes a who’s who of politics, sports teams and businesses. The Nazi Party changed politics when they transformed a political movement into something people could be a part of through symbology — the swastika — and a sense of moral superiority, fuelled by a hatred of others. Nazism became an identity for millions of people.

Nike went from selling shoes to communicating an ideology. The Swoosh is more than a logo, it’s a source of pride and status for sports people, streetwear enthusiasts and fans around the world.

Manchester United during the early 2000’s became more of a religion than a sports team based in the UK.

All of these organisations de-prioritised their owners, staff members and internal teams, and made the identity of their customers the focal point of all their efforts. When you pull on a pair of Nike shoes, you feel a part of something bigger, and your identity expands. When Germans pinned the swastika to their lapel in the 1930s, they no doubt felt the same way.

Identity marketing means looking at your customers from an emotional standpoint and addressing needs that they will always have — because those needs are who they are. By turning your product into an idea, and communicating that idea in a way that encourages people to join, a purchase becomes an automatic response to the right people.