How every customer creates their own brand reality

brand reality

Many years ago I had the opportunity to work alongside Sergio Zyman, the former Coca-Cola CMO and one of the most visionary executives of his generation. A colleague once asked him, “Sergio, how many marketing strategies should you have?” Without missing a beat, he said, “How many customers do you have?”

While this might seem like a whimsical or even flippant response, there is a deep truth here. A company needs to stratify its messages to the Nth degree, to personalize for individuals as much as the budget can afford.

It dawned on me that Sergio’s wish has come true, whether we know it or not. Every customer is receiving a personalized message about your company, and it has little or nothing to do with your marketing efforts. Everyone is forging their own brand reality. Let’s find out why …

The personalized brand reality

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that most of the human race no longer has any shared reality.

Thirty years ago, we would get our news and information from one or two daily newspapers, three network television stations, a couple of family magazine subscriptions, and maybe the radio during our commute to work.

So, there was a limited and common base of understanding. You might not agree with your neighbor, but at least you were debating the same facts that you gleaned from the evening news.

Today, through the infinite opportunity of the internet, we surround ourselves with whatever news and information supports our peculiar worldview.

There are endless resources that cater to every nuanced political and philosophical position. You can surround yourself with people and news sources that will logically support that the world is flat or that a man never landed on the moon.

A recent poll found that 15 percent of Americans believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory that the levers of government power are controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles. That number is larger than the membership of the Protestant church in America. That sort of bizarro world reality could only occur now, in a world of self-selected internet news.

People in these reality bubbles will think you’re crazy if you don’t share their world view because everyone they know, and everything they read supports their perspective. How can you be so dense?

The internet has become a scaffolding that holds an individually-created reality in place.

This also extends to feelings and beliefs about products and companies.

Whether you believe that the Denver Airport is the headquarters for a secret society plotting to take over the world, that Coke can dissolve a human tooth, Elon Musk is an alien, or that the COVID vaccine injects trackable microchips under your skin, you can immerse yourself in the right media to support whatever you want to believe.

It’s an interesting dilemma from a business standpoint. People surround themselves with supporting media and there’s probably nothing you can do to change their self-selected brand reality!

The Google assist

Our self-induced personal brand reality is supported and enhanced by the bubbles we’re kept in by Google, Facebook, and other search algorithms.

If you and I searched for “best luxury automobiles,” the result could be quite different for both of us, even if we’re using the same terms. The results can be impacted by:

  • Where we live
  • Our past search history
  • Local advertisers
  • What our friends search for

… to name a few.

One time, my wife was searching for a very specific type of shirt for me. I started seeing ads for that obscure shirt in my own news feed … although I had never searched for it! The algorithms knew we were connected and responded accordingly. I’m sure you have your own creepy examples of how these snippets of code hold our own personal realities in place!

The implications

If you think through the implications of these ideas, it’s easy to see that Sergio’s wish has come true, whether we like it or not. Our online reality has been fractured in millions of ways so that over time, our individual online experience conforms to our views and expectations. We are all surrounded by semi-permeable, or perhaps impermeable, brand bubbles.

In 2020, the average American spent nearly eight hours a day on the internet. Arguably, the internet is our reality.

I wonder if marketing strategy today is really about creating a brand story about a product, or is it finding a creative way to lure people out of their bubbles … or keeping them in one?


Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram.

Illustration courtesy of

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Share via