Bridging The Identity Gap

A brand playbook for behavior and perception

Everyone experiences cognitive dissonance in some part of their lives, where the person they believe themselves to be does not line up with their behaviors.

The wider the gap between who you think you are vs. who you act like, the greater discomfort you will feel. 

If you see yourself as a fun and warm person but have few friends, you will feel the pain of cognitive dissonance. If you see yourself as smart but are stuck in a dead-end job, you will carry a heavy mental burden in the back of your head. If you think you are good with money but nervously spend every paycheck before rent is due, cognitive dissonance is eroding your sense of self.

Cognitive dissonance hurts, and sometimes we will do anything to get rid of it.

Smart brands convey a strong, overt benefit that lines up with people’s actions and beliefs. Great brands, however, are smart enough to see the gap between people’s actions and beliefs, and leverage it for greater opportunity — and they do it without anyone realizing. 

Social psychology identifies three ways to solve for cognitive dissonance - you can change a person's beliefs, change a person's actions, or change how a person perceives their actions.

In my work, I’ve also seen a fourth pathway emerge - adapt people's actions for different outcomes - that not only works, but is indicative of where successful brands are headed over the next few years. 

Each pathway gets us from a state of high dissonance (discomfort and pain), to a state of lower dissonance (comfort, ease). This model can be a goldmine for brands searching for the one insight that will unlock their addressable market. 

For brand owners, CEOs and investors, these pathways also reveal the durability of a brand, namely its ability to continue serving a significant need for customers even as competitor brands put pressure on the category. 

Each pathway, when properly explored, will reveal new opportunities throughout the business and the marketplace. Your reach, engagement and defensibility will all be more impactful. 

It’s a great path to innovation, while staying true to the people you’re looking to serve. 

Say Something Nice

Here's what we've been consuming.

The Marvelification of man (Financial Times): “If the Hemsworth brothers have ushered in a new era of machismo, social media has further stirred the obsession with the male body: log on to TikTok or Instagram and you’ll find thousands of celebrities and civilians pursuing gruesome workout challenges and regimes.” 

Our Natural Human Defenses Against A.I. Culture (Culture: An Owner's Manual): “These alarming predictions, however, aren't based on an understanding of how culture actually works. As much as A.I. has gotten better at making human-like art, creation is arguably the easiest step in the process of cultural formation. Every day thousands if not millions of people propose new ideas and practices, but only a tiny sliver ever win attention, attract adherents, or take on collective meanings.” 

The End of Brands As We Know Them (UX Collective): “A decade ago, an individual with adequate reach selling as much as a major brand with an ample amount of awareness was inconceivable. What happened over the last decade that makes this possible now? [...] Now in 2023, when individuals can outsell institutions, it may be the end of brands as we know them.”

A future with no individual ownership is not a happy one: Property theory shows why (ScienceDirect): “No human society has ever existed without property and nor is it likely to do so in the future. Humans appear always to have related to things, and engaged in human-thing behaviours, that can be identified as property-like... Property emerged as a socio-legal construct that wraps around the human-thing relationship and the behaviours through which it is expressed. Property mediates not just the relations between people upon which society is based, but between people and things.” 

How America Got Mean (The Atlantic): “For roughly 150 years after the founding, Americans were obsessed with moral education [...] and then it mostly went away. The crucial pivot happened just after World War II, as people wrestled with the horrors of the 20th century. One group, personified by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, argued that recent events had exposed the prevalence of human depravity and the dangers, in particular, of tribalism, nationalism, and collective pride. Another group, personified by Carl Rogers, focused on the problem of authority. The trouble with the 20th century, the members of this group argued, was that the existence of rigid power hierarchies led to oppression in many spheres of life. We need to liberate individuals from these authority structures, many contended. People are naturally good and can be trusted to do their own self-actualization.”

Personal Space

Quick hits of insight in socially acceptable places.


Creative inspirations for the other side of your brain.

My cofounder Jean-Louis likes to quote James Clear in our meetings, saying "You don't rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems". 

Our most important systems at Concept Bureau are those that keep us mentally flexible. Some of those systems you've seen, like our Outliers Report. Others, like our Future Casting Sessions and Expert Presentations we may also share one day.

One of my favorite systems, however, is also the simplest. We call it Freedom From Reality Day (FFRD for short), an idea that was given to me by a friend and guru on a silent retreat many years ago.

On this monthly holiday, my team is tasked with forgetting the rules of reality. Each person must do one thing that breaks the invisible boundaries and scripts they live by. Past prompts have included "Have a conversation that scares you," "Read something you would never read" or "Break one of your daily routines". 

They're not as easy as they seem. People have agonized over their choices (or at least I have agonized over mine). Disrespecting the rules of reality is hard, not because it requires us to get outside of our comfort zones, but because it's hard to even think outside of those rules. Surprisingly, coming up with ideas for executing a prompt takes a lot more effort than actually doing it. 

In the spirit of cognitive dissonance (this week's article topic), I have an FFRD prompt for you today:

Tell a lie about yourself that you want to be true.

Pretend you are in fact the person you want to be, the person you know you should be, but aren't yet. Wear that identity for a moment and confidently lie about who you are. 

If I met you during this FFRD, I would tell you I'm about to publish a book. You would ask me what it's about and why I wrote it (so kind of you to ask, btw).

Well, I've been wanting to write this book for 10 long years, and I finally got the courage to tackle a topic I cared deeply about but had no idea where to start - what makes people believe. I wrote it because honestly, I want my work to matter. I want to know that I did at least one thing that people cared about, one thing that my kids will look at when they'e grown up and feel impressed by. I want to feel like my work added something new to the world, and a book about what makes people believe is that kind of book. 

And you know what? That conversation would feel so good. I would feel, for a moment, the thrill of knowing I committed to something frightfully big. I would feel the sacrifices I had to make, the months I'd have spent toiling over half-baked ideas until they actually held water.

I'd feel the freedom of knowing I finally lived up to my potential. And I'd feel the not-so-impossible distance between myself right now and this other self that has published.

Surprising things happen when you free yourself from reality.

Go tell a lie. Find out how close to the truth you actually are.


Jasmine Bina
Founder & CEO
Concept Bureau, Inc.