“That _____ is so you.” We have all heard this saying... maybe in relation to a piece of clothing, a car, decorations, or any other number of products. But if we think a little more deeply about it, we have to ask, “how is it that an inanimate object can contain so much meaning that it would be able to capture the very essence of you?”

Up until the 1980’s the majority of marketing efforts were centred on the functional benefits offered by products and services. In the 80’s all that changed. Several researchers began demonstrating that it’s not just about functional benefits, but that consumption is used to convey personal meaning to others. In 1988, research by Russell Belk blew the top off of this simmering pot of new ideas. He demonstrated that not only do people use the products and services they consume to tell others information about themselves, but that their consumption is used to contribute to, and manage, their identities.

Consumers don’t just wear Nike clothes because the fit and material allow for the freedom of movement required for sport (functional benefits), or because they like sports (values). No, people wear Nike because they are sporty (identity). In today’s society, this concept is hardly revolutionary. Even if you have never thought about your consumption in this context it’s not a very big mental stretch to see this reality, but at the time Belk’s research was released, it was groundbreaking.

Despite our comfort with this concept now, marketers often concentrate their communication or interaction with clients on functional benefits or values. Sometimes this is necessary, but if a strategy never considers how clients identify with brands, then an opportunity for brands and consumers to connect on an intensely personal level is being ignored.

You may now be asking “how do I make that connection?” The answer lies in the concepts of brand personality and brand relationships, two ideas developed towards then end of the 90’s and the subject of my next blog!


*This will be my first blog in a series that examines how Aasman merges academic theory and research with 25 years of experience to help our clients develop new and exciting ways to engage with their customers. These insights are drawn from the branding thesis I wrote for my Masters of Science in Administration – Marketing Specialization. If you’d like to read the full thesis, you can find it here.

Belk, Russell (1988), “Possessions and the Extended Self,” Journal of Consumer Research, 15, (September), 139-168.




by Eleanor

Ooh! Great idea for the series. Thank you posting the history lesson Steve! Looking forward to the next one.


by Rona Aasman

I can totally relate to the idea of “things” speaking to identity. In the 80’s, I was very attached to my turqoise Beaver Canoe sweatshirt and matching slouch socks. I WAS style.


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