Marty Seligman is one of my heroes. He is the father of Positive Psychology. The man who dared to bring scientific evidence to define and validate the power of optimism and gratitude in achieving positive change. Recently, Seligman and colleagues published new work on the power of future mindedness. One premise is that the futures we carry in our minds (built of current thoughts and fantasies about the future), actually create our present. In other words, our present is an outcome of our future thoughts not simply our past actions. Wow.
When reading his new book, Homo Prospectus, the thinking aligned very closely with my view on how brands work. Powerful brands capture some aspect of an envisioned future – a “hope” or “desired concept” people value. Let me use the powerful brand example covered in last week’s blog as it is fresh in everyone’s mind – Make America Great Again. The optimistic future presented by this brand is shaping current reality. Branding efforts are underway to keep this idea alive in our consciousness and the culture, ideally strengthening it, causing millions to grab onto a common hope and idealized future. Whether or not this concept ever comes true or not doesn’t really matter, because it is a brand idea not a campaign promise. (I’m not sure anyone would even know how to measure America Becoming Great Again.) What matters is that this compelling brand idea about the future is changing current reality.
The future hope presented by a powerful brand, which can be personalized to each individual, changes current reality as it affects people’s thoughts about the future and future intentions. And, even if something negative happens in reality that contradicts the beautiful idea, the power of the brand can be so strong that it overshadows the negatives with its brightness. People want to believe its true, so they stick with it and dismiss the negatives. This is how McDonald’s thrived for so many decades. This is how powerful brands work. Seligman’s future mindedness is in operation here and also his thoughts on the power of optimism.
Seligman argues it is anticipating and evaluating future possibilities for the guidance of thought and action that is the cornerstone of human success. I’d argue the same is true for a powerful brand. Seligman has proven that a positive orientation to the future drives social mobility and personal prosperity. It makes hope, aspiration and perseverance both meaningful and possible. These traits can be acquired by anyone, and powerful brands often inspire, impart and activate these traits by shaping a positive orientation about the future. This is why I’ve always felt powerful brands make a meangingful contribution to society, and that we desperately need more of them.