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Intro to the Post-Binary World pt 2: Why the Post-Binary Trend is so Important for Brands (text)

Welcome back to our series of post about the Post-Binary Trend.

This post is all about why the Post-Binary trend is so important for brands.

If you haven’t read the post of watched the video for part 1, please do go and watch/read it, as this post will make much more sense if you do that!

So, why is the Post-Binary Trend so important for brands?

I’m going to lay this out as a very simple formula:

1. The Post-Binary World is a more complex world – because as we saw in the last video, binaries simplified – and often oversimplified – the world.

2. For ordinary people – a brand’s consumers, customers, audience - complexity is often experienced as irreconcilable tensions or really difficult choices in life.

3. So one of the key roles brands play in a Post-Binary world is to simplify people’s lives by providing resolutions to these complex issues

Let’s do a little bit of a rewind here…


Once upon a time we lived in a world of clear and distinct binaries...

This was a pretty simple, clear cut world.

I always think of the Cold War as the global paradigm for the Binary World – East vs West, Communism vs Capitalism, Good vs Bad (depending on which side you were on).

Now one of the important things about these binary oppositions was that they were not equal partners – one was more valued or seen as more important than the other.

Imagine each set of binaries on weighing scales...

So men were considered to be superior to women, people were more important than animals, humans more important than technology, work more important than leisure, creators more important than audiences and so on.

Even if, as an individual, you didn’t agree with this state of affairs, social norms and institutional conventions tended to prevail and you would be seen as unconventional or problematic in some way.

We call this the Binary Imbalance.

There are many reasons why these binaries no longer hold as strongly today and that has a lot to do with the breakdown of this Binary Imbalance.

From a global perspective, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism is obviously a big part of this story.

Following 9/11 the Bush administration attempted to reinstate a global binary through the War on Terror and the idea of a global Axis of Evil, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan actually ended up achieving the opposite.

It actually caused many people to question whether the US and its allies were really any better than the enemies they were fighting.

This is an example of the breakdown of the Binary Imbalance and we see this occurring in other parts of culture.

At the same time as the simple good vs evil binary was coming apart on a global scale, popular culture was exploring similar issues in shows like The Sopranos and The Shield, where the anti-hero returned as a dominant TV trope – someone who was Good AND ALSO Bad and who roamed the broad landscape of grey between those two points.

The result of the erosion of these kinds of distinct Binary Imbalances - from geopolitics to pop culture – was what we call Binary Parity – where both sides of a binary opposition were on a more equal footing.

And the consequence of this is the complexity we have today.

For example in the old world of the Binary Imbalance viewers didn’t feel they had to make a choice whether to cheer on the hero or not – it was simple – Luke Skywalker was good Darth Vader was evil.

But in a world of Binary Parity things become more complex. The weight of choice is on the viewer to make sense of and judge the actions of protagonists like Walter White, Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Tyrion Lannister or Kendall Roy.

Sometimes we agree with them, other times we find them despicable, often we find it difficult to judge them in terms of right and wrong at all.

The feelings viewers have towards these protagonists shifts and changes as the story unfolds, often making them feeling uncomfortable, or indifferent or confused about how they should feel.

This is an example of the audience experience of complexity.

Now this probably all feels a little bit distant from the more day to day world of brands, but what happens in one area of culture has an effect on other areas and complexity is something that people are experiencing more than ever on a day to day basis because the world is becoming more Post-Binary.

And this is where brands can play a really important role.


Let’s have a look at what a couple of these everyday experiences look like for people...

A few years back one of the most popular TV shows on Netflix was Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Marie was a Japanese ‘organising consultant’ and author who helped popularize the trends for tidying up and de-cluttering - trends that are still going strong today.

In the show Marie visited people whose homes had become overrun with stuff and helped get them back into some semblance of order.

The show’s popularity attested to the fact that this was an issue many people could relate to.

Our homes can feel cluttered and disorganized, our attics and basements full of forgotten objects and things we’re not sure we really need.

But - and this is where things start getting complex - at the same time as feeling overwhelmed by our possessions we also feel a strong compulsion to keep them – it often requires real effort and emotional toil to get rid of our possessions – and even worse we also feel the need to buy buy more!

Tidying Up With Marie Kondo tapped into a classic binary opposition:


In the old binary world, however there was of course a Binary Imbalance.

We proudly identified as consumers, buying the newest tech or the latest fashions, chucking out the old, buying a bigger home to put more of our stuff in, buying more cars, more sports equipment, more of whatever we could get our hands on - materialism was the norm.

Now, in a more Post-Binary world it’s much less clear cut, as Tidying Up With Marie Kondo shows.

There is now a Binary Parity between Materialism and Restraint.

Multiple trends push against buying and possessing stuff – the environmental impact is the most significant, but there is also a desire for the psychological benefits of calmer, more minimalistic homes often inspired by the images of the beautiful interiors that flood our social media feeds.

BUT we still feel strongly attached to stuff and importantly buying things is an important part of who we are, how we express ourselves and how we make relationships with other people – it’s not just buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff (at least most of the time).

So, as Tidying Up with Marie Kondo shows, people feel like they are being pulled in different directions at the same time and there isn’t a clear ‘right’ answer or choice that doesn’t feel like a compromise too far.

An example we’re probably even more familiar with is the role of technology in the Post-Binary world.

With the traditional Binary Imbalance we put humans above technology.

Now we live in a world where as much as we value the human, technology has become an irreplaceable part of our lives, and is increasingly seen as something capable of replacing humans in a growing range of sectors.

But at the everyday level it is in the form of our smartphones that Binary Parity is most apparent.

A recent global anthropological study has shown that smartphones have become more than just our most intimate possessions.

For many people they contain essential elements of our lives – it’s not too much of a stretch to think of them as our digital souls.

But at the same time we also feel they are detrimental to us – they distract us, they can make us feel bad, strangers can contact us through them, they cause us to ignore, resent or even fall out with friends and family.

We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them. And we’re caught in the middle of this cultural dilemma. This is a classic example of complexity born out of Binary Parity.

People have created inventive strategies in order to find alternatives to giving in to them or giving up on them. We download apps onto them that limit our use of them. We try going cold turkey. Or we adapt them to our own social lives through forms of social distancing and intimacy.

Whatever the choices people make, they are not easy.

And this is a fundamental issue in the post-binary world - people are desperately looking for ways to make life simpler.

And this is one of the key areas where brands play a role…


Brands excel when they offer simple solutions

And in a more complex, Post-Binary world the simple benefits that brands can offer is actually more valuable and desirable

People are always on the lookout for ways to cope with complexity.

Being a post-binary brand is about being part of this solution.

A core part of the appeal of the Post-Binary brands I have mentioned before – like Air BnB, Uber, Seedlip – is that they offer simple solutions that help people deal with complexity:

  • Air BnB gives us the comfort of home with the excitement of away

  • Uber makes us feel special and ordinary at the same time

  • Seedlip means we can be the life of the party and be kind to our bodies

I’m going to end this post with a really simple but very relevant example where brands play a key role in helping people overcome Post-Binary complexity. Health.

Health has become a burning issue in the Post-Binary world because while health itself used to be part of a traditional binary of Health vs Illness this no longer holds true.

Today individuals can be Healthy AND ALSO Ill, because health is no longer defined as simply the absence of illness.

Health is always relative to an individual’s personal needs and goals, rather than something that is decided for them by top-down institutions, like doctors or other medical professionals.

So Health is not only extremely important – but people feel they always need to be doing something to improve their health - eat better, exercise more, sleep better, stress less, and so on.

But at the same time having fun and indulging is also important – people also feel that they shouldn’t have to compromise too much when it comes to treating themselves.

There is Binary Parity then between Health and Fun.

The question is: how do you do both?

This was actually one of the earliest post-binary spaces to emerge for brands – we saw brands that offered Health AND ALSO Fun.

Brands like Innocent in the UK and Naked in the US offered health in a fun and tasty way.

And as health trends have evolved new brands have stepped in.

I’ve already mentioned Lo or No-alcohol brands like Seedlip and we also have brands like Impossible Foods that do plant-based meat and brands like Oatly doing non-dairy.

These brands help consumers feel that they don’t have to make uncomfortable compromises that the more complex Post-Binary world has created.

Another example in the health space is fitness.

One of the core tensions here has always been about time.

Fitness requires time and commitment, but there are always other important demands on an individual’s time.

In the world of old-fashioned Binary Imbalances Chores were more important than Fitness, but as health has grown in importance people face the problem of Binary Parity.

Fitness often becomes a question of either/or – do I use my time to improve my fitness or do I use it to do some other equally pressing activity?

This is another example of where brands have stepped in to resolve the tension.

For example Peloton has shown that you can save time and focus on your fitness by escaping the time wasted going through the ritual of going to the gym.

An even more cost-efficient example is Joe Wicks, who has demonstrated that all you need to keep fit is 15-20 minutes and enough space in your lounge to do a burpee.

In a more complex, post-binary world people’s lives are characterized by countless, often soul-destroying tensions, and life is a constant quest for solutions to these issues.

Being a Post-Binary brand in a more complex world immediately adds value because it helps people resolve tensions, manage complexity and simplify their lives.

And another important point is that in a world of Binary Parity a brand that offers resolutions can actually meet two significant needs at the same time, so as a consumer the experienced value of a brand that does this is much higher than those that only meet a single need.

This brings us to the end of the 'Why the Post-Binary Trend is Important for Brands' post.

In the next one we’ll move on to the 'how to do it stage' – where we’ll be looking at a simple approach for evolving a brand into a Post-Binary brand.

Thanks again for reading!


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