Picture it. Sicily. 200,000 BC. There’s no Il primo course; pasta hasn’t been invented yet, so everyone is hungry and there’s not enough food to go around. Your clan meets mine for the first time, just outside of Palermo. Do we invite you into the cave for antipasti? No. You’re filthy outsiders, here to trash the joint and take all our Mastadon spada alla ghiotta. So we fight, in groups we’ve instinctively formed to help us better survive this very situation: competition for insufficient resources. And those who survive enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of procreation. The concept of “Us” versus “Them” may not be politically correct, but it was crucial to our survival. And our brains are still hard wired for this type of division.
A member of the Sears accounts team is hardly likely to bash in the skull of a member of the marketing team while competing for the last ballpoint in the stockroom. Instead, we use that in-group instinct to determine our self-image. The groups we belong to shape our identities. We belong to groups of people we know personally like our family, our book club, and our drinking buddies. We also belong to groups so vast that we can’t know everyone personally – Males, Egyptians, graphic designers. Whatever group we’re in, we feel like that group’s fate is our own, so it makes sense that we have warm feelings of connectedness for our groups, even though we may dislike some individuals within those groups. For example, I take great pride in my Canadian heritage but can’t stop seem to stop apologizing for Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, and of course, Bryan Adams.
It’s not surprising that studies have shown that people will make enormous financial and personal sacrifices to become part of an in-group they wish to be part of. People may endure the pain and humiliation of hazing to pledge a fraternity, or pay to become members of everything from the NPR to the Emperor’s Club.
Some of the most successful companies concentrate on creating an in-group for their customers. For example, we know that the Apple in-group, thanks to their famous marketing campaign, is composed of the smart, hip, youthful, and fit, as opposed to the Windows in-group, who are a bunch of uptight, suit-wearing, unimaginative losers. People will pay a lot of money to belong to that Apple in-group. The new iPad, with its “stunning Retina display, 5MP iSight camera, and ultrafast 4G LTE” starts at $499.00. And it comes with a license to complain about the Genius Bar with as many doe-eyed, skinny-jeaned, Zooey Deschanel look-alikes as you can cope with.
We may have made great strides – especially in the OBU – in creating our Sears employee in-groups. The majority of my co-workers take pride in working for such an established and historically groundbreaking company, in such a great location. We clearly have the know-how to manipulate this universal, primitive wish to be part of an in-group, so why aren’t we doing more to make our customers feel like they belong to “Team Sears?” While we give wonderful rewards to those joining the Craftsman Club or becoming Shop Your Way Rewards members, inclusion in these groups doesn’t exactly make the Average Joe want to strut down the street like John Travolta during the opening credits of Saturday Night Fever. The tagline, “This is Sears” is not inclusive. The marketing campaign is beautiful, and startlingly different than our past campaigns, so it may work well in spite of its tagline. But I’d love to see the affect a more inclusive message would have on our bottom line. Until then, This is Your In-Group. This is Sears.