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How we immerse ourselves in culture when our exploration has new limits

  • by Andie Wexler
    Strategist
  • November 20, 2020

Empathy is key to getting to know the world around us. It’s how we achieve understanding from immersion, going outside our comfort zone, having conversations that make us think, and learning about how the world looks from perspectives that aren’t our own. These exchanges help us tell true stories. They influence and form the brands we help to create. But we’ve been missing those exchanges, and the ways we're used to exploring. So during our time indoors, we’ve had to rediscover how to investigate, understand, and immerse ourselves in the outside world while in safety of our own home.

Never look straight at the answer.

We start in the most obvious place, the internet. The wonderful world wide web. One of the most powerful research tools— when used correctly. Our industry is an echo chamber of statistics, insights, and ideas, so the unintentional searching leads us to the same observation as everyone else.

To source less obvious content, we go beyond the stereotypical “search and see what comes up.” We look for credible articles published by an outlet seemingly unrelated to our research topic. Think reading Wired to get inspired for a wellness brand. Or stumbling upon a YouTube video by an expert psychologist who has spent years in her practice to discover the psychology of kissing. We know that in order to find what we need most, we must look in new places and explore new avenues of insight.

Become best friends with words.

Words are everywhere. So we search for them in a variety of areas. Words in articles and words in reports. Words in songs and words from poets. Words by our favorite authors and words in other languages. Whether it’s online or in a book, it’s important that we find an eclectic range of voices and perspectives.

So, drop that strategy book your first boss told you to read and pick up something new. Find a classic and relearn an old lesson. Read a memoir, then go read some tweets. Peruse a few articles in the New Yorker then find a couple more on Imbibe. By exposing our eyes to a variety of writers and writing styles, we gather diverse thoughts and opinions as well as learn new vocabulary and styles.

Speak to those who have no idea what you do.

Call up a cousin who just had a baby. Facetime a friend from far away. Text dad and ask him for his perspective (he’ll freely give it!).

The people in our lives can be the most helpful tool in understanding an idea. If there’s one thing that’s certain for every person in the branding world, it’s that we often get stuck in our own ways, especially if they’ve worked well.

Think about the process or approach in the same way. Find answers from the same places. One way to break the cycle is to speak to a friend who finds branding bothersome. They don’t have to hate it but they do have to be far enough away from it that their answer offers no professional bias.

Make every day an opportunity to immerse.

Watch a new film every week (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the ‘60s), then a show that received a Golden Globe nomination last year (Fleabag with Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Discover a new hobby—maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s basket weaving. Dive deep into a new skin care routine and end up immersed in the world of r/skincare.

At Character, we believe the only true way to understand culture is through immersing ourselves in it. The answers to our most important questions lie within these situations, in real people and the real world.

The world we live in may have been made smaller by the bubble of quarantine, but it hasn’t limited our ability to explore. There’s no doubt we miss the rush of standing in a crowd at a concert and hearing the perspectives of those around us, but with these limits we must work harder and smarter to learn from others.

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