How To Bend the Will of the Market

…straight to your brand’s doorstep.

Here's the only definition of brand strategy you will ever need: Strategic brands bend the will of the market.

It doesn't matter if you're the coolest brand, the biggest or the most innovative. None of those things are defensible on their own.

Real strategy is when you make moves today to condition the market, so that tomorrow the market prefers you over your competitors. 

Apple conditioned the market to see electronics as identity markers.

Architectural Digest conditioned the market to see interior design as social voyeurism.

Equinox conditioned the market to see the gym as a temple of "high-performance living".

All of them created conditions that favored them over anyone else in the space. This is real strategy.

If you can’t look at all of your brand activities and decipher how you are shaping the perception of your category in a way that positions your brand as the natural winner, you do not have a strategy. You are merely reacting to the rules that another player has written.

At any given point, the market moves forward linearly. Products, features, ideas, expectations, behaviors and the overall story that defines them will continue to move forward in the same direction along the same line. 

But when you bend the will of the market, you bend the direction of that line. You change the overall story so that suddenly your brand is on the critical path, and your competitors have fallen off.

There are a few ways to bend the will of the market, regardless of whether you are a small company or a big one, B2C or B2B, first to market or last. 

What matters more than anything else is that your brand resists falling on the linear path.

Bending the will of the market is always hard, and there is no guarantee, but the brands that are successful are usually the ones that take the biggest swings.

Relationship Business

Here's what we've been consuming.

Slow Ideas (The New Yorker): “In our era of electronic communications, we’ve come to expect that important innovations will spread quickly. Plenty do: think of in-vitro fertilization, genomics, and communications technologies themselves. But there’s an equally long list of vital innovations that have failed to catch on. The puzzle is why.”

The New New Moats (Greylock): "Large language models like GPT-4, PaLM2, and LlaMA are tangible examples of the way AI is becoming the enabling technology of this moment... Orienting oneself amid this Cambrian explosion of AI startups requires asking a basic question: Where is the enduring value in the market? Or, to ask myself a riff on the same question as six years ago: What are the new new moats?”

Worldly, Yet Carefree (Ribbonfarm): "'Worldly, yet carefree' is an attitude that’s aware of and actively attending to what’s going on in the world, but confident enough about the collective human response to the world’s troubles to routinely kick back and relax with a sense of security. Cringe, by contrast, is a retreating kind of humor that requires a certain obliviousness to the world to work, and is never quite free of a vague sense of subconscious neurotic insecurity about the state of the world."

Are Siblings More Important Than Parents? (The Atlantic): “Whether a person models herself after her siblings or tries to distinguish herself has particularly important consequences. One study found that siblings who felt positively about each other tended to achieve similar education levels, while those who spent unequal time with their dad and perceived unequal parental treatment had diverging educational fortunes.”

So long shop class: This high school is designed for the jobs of the future (Fast Company): “Across the country, schools are reorienting their courses to accommodate the 30% to 40% of high schoolers who don’t plan to attend a four-year university after graduation, bringing in a more diverse set of education and training opportunities that can prepare them to jump directly into the estimated 30 million well-paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.”

AI Is Life (NOEMA): “Life on this planet is very deeply embedded in time, and we as individuals are temporary instances of bundles of informational lineages. We are deeply human (going back 3.8 billion years to get here), and this is a critically important moment in the history of our planet but it is not the pinnacle of evolution. What our planet can generate may just be getting started. In all likelihood, we are already a few rungs down in the hierarchy of informational systems that might be considered ‘alive’ on this planet right now.”

The Culture That Explains America (The New York Times): “Some pieces of culture — deliberately or not — are so revealing, capture so much of a country’s essence that they can practically be read as foundational texts. We asked our columnists to pick the one piece of culture that, to them, best explains America. They came back with a wide range of answers — from a 1979 Sugarhill Gang song to a literary classic. Each pick speaks to a different vision of this country and what it stands for, some more hopeful than others. But they all tell us something about the archetypes we root for, the mythologies we cling to and the ideals we clash over and share.”

[Bonus] I spoke to Luxury Daily about branding in the luxury spirits space today: "'Brands are reconnecting to their pasts and retelling their origin stories with a focus on the values and ideals that speak to today's audience,' Ms. Bina said. 'Macallan understands that the stories and mythologies of whiskey are the most important drivers of luxury consumption – people drink whiskey not because of status or taste, but because of identity. What you drink has a lot to say about who you believe you are.'”

The Devil In The Chart

Quick hits of insight in socially acceptable places.

Side Piece

Creative inspirations for the other side of your brain.

I'd like to take repurpose this farewell section of the newsletter for sharing my personal thoughts, because curious people like us are always contemplating something. Better to do it together.


I carry this quote with me in a locket around my neck:

"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." (It's from a James Taylor song.)

Being a strategist means spending years talking to countless people from all walks of life - people who live very different realities than me. But something I noticed for a long time was that people fell into two groups.

Those who found ways to enjoy their lives today, and those who worked to find joy in their lives tomorrow.

I was always in the tomorrow camp. The older I got, the less I let myself have hobbies. I never read fiction. I didn't watch anything that didn't either educate me or zone me out. If I traveled, I made sure I was taking meetings. Didn't invest in friendships enough. Someone once asked me if I had any happiness practices: I had zero.

I believed if I did anything today, it had to be productive in getting me somewhere. Everything else was a waste of time.

But after doing so much qualitative research for so many years, talking to people face-to-face in other parts of the country and the world, it was hard to ignore how happy the today camp was. Regardless of any socioeconomic factor, the today camp of people was just hands-down having fun no matter what.

Especially in the small ways. Playing board games, trying new recipes, taking baths, having theme dinner parties, indulging in fiction (something I could never let myself do), killing time with friends, trying new hobbies, lighting candles, taking walks that weren't exercise, not expecting every single thing to be productive.

I believe if you look into your user base, or any population, you will see the same thing.

The today camp understood what the passage of time was really about, and that changed me. I've spent the past couple of years trying to unwind my tomorrow mindset just a little bit (who knew I'd discover a passion for sci-fi books!), and it has improved every area of my life, even work. Especially work.

I always say that in strategy you have to "let the work change you." It's such a gift.

If you're not changing, you're missing out.


Jasmine Bina
Founder & CEO
Concept Bureau, Inc.