The complexity of identity

Americus Reed, Lisa Elizabeth Bolton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


People categorize themselves on the basis of demographics, social roles and shared consumption patterns, and these various identities are both numerous and fluid, changing over an individual's lifetime and across situations. That fact is not fully recognized by traditional demographic and psychographic techniques, and the labels that consumers use to define who they are do not necessarily correspond to the variables that marketers typically rely on. A new approach - identity marketing - better captures the complex process of how people's sense of who they are influences their purchase decisions. To be sure, the complexity of identity-based judgments presents both opportunities and obstacles for marketers, but companies often fail to appreciate this. In fact, many marketing blunders can be traced back to a fundamental misunderstanding of customer identity. Common mistakes include the following: (1) selling new products solely on their features, (2) failing to solidify first-mover advantage, (3) fighting the competition head-on, (4) sticking with what's worked before, (5) underestimating low-involvement products, and (6) attacking negative word-of-mouth. Identity marketing helps companies avoid such mistakes by providing a deeper understanding of how customers become strongly attracted to the brands and products that are linked to their multiple - and sometimes seemingly contradictory - identities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMIT Sloan Management Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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