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The Curated Self: Part II

05 June

Part I of this series “Fact, Fiction and the Curated Self” explains how qualitative researchers explore the story people tell about themselves: their motivations, perceptions, desires, needs and beliefs. These stories are not about facts or behaviors. Behavioral data are observable in our digital footprints. On the other hand, the story people tell about themselves is the key to understanding what matters to them and why.

Photo Credit: Nikki Creative Commons 2.0

Photo Credit: Nikki Creative Commons 2.0

In Part II we share examples from fashion and romance fiction to show how this works in practical terms. We show how to recognize and interpret the curated self as it is presented to us. This is aimed at marketers or anyone who needs an in-depth understanding of the people upon which their business depends.

Closet Ethnographies 

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Photo credit: You and me organize

In 2015 we helped Rent the Runway gain a deeper understanding of their customers by conducting “closet ethnographies” to explore what matters when choosing what to wear. One big discovery was that a voluminous wardrobe does not equal abundance. Au contraire, a crammed closet only obscures our ability to see the things that reflect who we are right now, and it can set up the dreaded “what was I thinking” outfit. Most of you reading this will know what that means. You see yourself in a mirror or a picture on social media. You are wearing a faddish outfit or hat or shoes. You feel embarrassed thinking “how could I have thought that looked good on me?” It is a moment of disconnect between who we really want to be and what the external world has persuaded us to be. We are lured into an inauthentic fashion fad moment.

As she looks into her closet, she is contemplating the story she wants to tell the world about herself TODAY. What matters is that she sees options that are relevant to her NOW. The curated self is not static. It changes along with us. The things that matter to us today will change both qualitatively, and, in magnitude of priority, over time.

A Mythic Persona

Cintra Wilson, in her book “Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style” traces the roots of her style crafting skill to growing up in San Francisco: “I had the good fortune to misspend a great deal of my youth with club kids and drag queens, whose example taught me to build my own mythic persona from the outside in.” If you are curious to learn more about deconstructing style statements, this book is for you. Cintra appears to have been born with an innate understanding of how the curated self works. She successfully built a mythic persona and can read yours at a glance.

Tear Down This Gender Wall 

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Photo credit: Wildfang

Emma Mcilroy founded Wildfang, a fashion business built on the idea that overly genderized apparel stiffles women’s ability to develop authentically curated selves. Wildfang has tapped into a deep reservoir of demand for women’s apparel where the gendered wall between the men’s and women’s departments has been torn down.

Examples from fashion vividly illustrate how our apparel choices tell a story about what matters to us. But the curated self relates to the whole of our lives, not just what we wear. Here’s another example that illustrates how recognizing and exploring the curated self gives marketers a way to understand what motivates their audiences.

Romance-Fiction Readers on the Bus 

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Woman 1

“When Wendy’s reading the book on the bus, she can feel that other people are judging her for her mom porn.  That’s what they call it.  It’s our mom porn.  [laughter] They’re judging her until they see Wendy crying.  Then they’re like ‘whoa, maybe it’s not all mom porn.’   …[S]he’s reading it, she’s crying, I think it has an impact on ‘don’t judge that book by the cover.’”

Woman 2

I’m more of the electronic because… I don’t want people… because of that, the mom porn.  I don’t want the kids seeing it.  I don’t want my sisters either.  ‘There goes Vanessa with her porn again.’  [laughter] I don’t like people to see what I’m reading so the tablet or the electronic version allows that.  I can get the hard copy.  I’ll get the hard copy and just read it in my home, in my room.”

If you were a marketer of romance fiction, the insights that flow from these stories would be fairly obvious. Your readers derive a visceral enjoyment from romance novels. They feel judged (unfairly) about it. But they hold themselves lightly in this context. They see themselves as complex, emotional, passionate women. They care enough about the benefit that they don’t mind keeping it a secret. Perhaps keeping it a secret even enhances it’s value.

Exploring how she curates the self she presents to the world teaches us what motivates her. By asking her to tell her story we see the contours of her choices. By listening for what matters to her, we begin to understand the “why” of her choices. Marketers can learn volumes about their audience by focusing on why people care about what they care about. This learning can and should inform your marketing and brand strategies.

Good questions don’t grow on trees

We are here to help you understand your audience, your customers, and your potential growth opportunities by asking good questions and then listening very carefully. Contact us to learn more.

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