Our Collective Marketing Consciousness

A long-running tag line of this blog has been “raising marketing consciousness through best practices, philosophy, and trends.” When I refer to marketing consciousness, what I’m really talking about is the need for marketers to operate from a post-conventional level of understanding about the world (a requirement in this networked, global era), as opposed to from a strictly linear, traditional Western viewpoint in order to best understand where the role of marketing fits into the overall picture, how to be the most effective at creating/implementing marketing strategies, and how marketing can help accomplish larger objectives.

Allow me to explain …

A friend recently passed along to me a copy of the presentation entitled “Ego Development: Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace” by Susanne Cook-Greuter, who not only has a PhD from Harvard, but is internationally known as the leading expert in mature ego development and self-actualization. In this paper, Cook-Grueter looks at the different ways of doing, being, and thinking in Western society. For anyone interested in psychology or philosophy, this data provides a powerful platform for discussion, introspection, and a new way of looking at the world and the interactions that take place within it.

In the paper, Cook-Greuter outlines a series of developmental stages that can occur from infancy through to mature adulthood. Below is a brief overview of those stages:


In short, the first set of stages represent conventional linear reasoning and the second set of stages represent a postconventional understanding of the world. Only in the latter stages is it truly possible to be able to operate from a “holistic” perspective. But it is important to understand all stages of development.

A Study on Collective Consciousness

On page five of the paper, Cook-Greuter provides an overview of a study that summarizes the current stages of ego development for three different population subgroups to gain an understanding of the larger, collective consciousness of each. The sample populations included:

  1. A group of 497 managers and supervisors in the U.S., and
  2. A group of 535 managers and consultants in the UK,
  3. A group of 4,510 people in the general U.S. population

In both the U.S. population of managers and within the general U.S. population sample, the predominant stage of consciousness that most people operate at is at stage 3/4 or at the “self-conscious” level. Within the U.K. population, the majority of the sample falls within a stage 4 “conscientious” or stage 4/5 “individualist” level.

To give you an idea for how fascinating this is, below is a brief overview of what it means to operate at stage 3/4:

Stage 3/4 persons often feel they have “figured it all out.” They know all the answers. They know what to believe. They feel righteous and often put others in the wrong (resistance). They have high moral standards and a strong sense of what should be. They are concerned with fulfilling their responsibilities and duties. They often display compulsive and perfectionist tendencies. The super-ego is very strong. Others are evaluated according to one’s own capabilities and standards. Severe criticism of how another thinks is a common form of intellectual aggression at this stage. A sense of superiority is not very well hidden. This stage is a very resistant and stable. No one can tell a Self-conscious person anything they don’t know already or know better.

By contrast, to describe the average mindset of a person operating at stage 4 level, below follows a brief descriptive summary:

Conscientious adults are willing to work towards the betterment of the world according to what they deem as good for all. They have more tolerance than Self-conscious persons for some delay between positive action and results, research and findings, questions and answers and are less likely to believe that they do not need others to achieve their goals. Conscientious adults have internalized societal standards. They are no longer as proud of what they have come up with as Self-conscious people and are more aware of how they have become and are still in the process of growing. It is with the Conscientious stage that people have enough of a perspective on themselves as objects and on their life as changing to become truly introspective.

What’s so interesting about this study is that it highlights one culture at the rational/scientific stage, and another culture a the postconventional stage. For example, in the rational stage, fully functional adults see and treat reality as “something preexistent and external to themselves made up of permanent, well-defined objects that can be analyzed, investigated, and controlled for our benefit.”  Meanwhile, the postconventional stage is marked by an overall trend of assimilation and integration towards an ever more conscious sense of belongingness.

In reading this, I can’t help but see the trend of marketing heading in the same direction. Generally speaking, thus far we’ve witnessed the following underlying shifts take place in the discipline of marketing that point toward a rapid progression of our collective consciousness in the Western world that must be embraced and better understood moving into the future:

  1. The Greening of Global Brands” – “There is a new and important underlying trend in marketing taking hold across the globe that marketers far and wide should pay attention to when positioning their products and services or crafting their marketing strategies: a collective and growing concern for the environment.”
  2. Megatrends in Business: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism” – This is why there has perhaps never been a better time for marketers to be focusing their energies on fostering relationships and rebuilding trust through conversation, education initiatives, and transparency. It is therefore not surprising that the discipline of marketing has shifted from primarily a product-pushing model to now a relationship-centric one.”
  3. Cultural Creatives and the LOHAS Movement” – “According to sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson, there is an emerging market segment known as the “cultural creatives” who make up approximately 50 million adult Americans … ‘Cultural Creative’ is a term coined by Ray and Anderson to describe people whose values embrace a curiosity and concern for the world, its ecosystem, and its peoples; an awareness of and activism for peace and social justice; and an openness to self-actualization through spirituality, psychotherapy, and holistic practices.”
  4. The Holistic Marketing Concept” – “In order for a company to achieve success in today’s business landscape, it must take into consideration the complexities of its breadth and interdependencies because businesses no longer exist in a vacuum but within a multi-dimensional, global, interconnected landscape.”
  5. Is Traditional Marketing Dead?” – “Does this article not suggest that companies who spend more time doing the right thing, i.e. looking after their employees, customers, and communities is the new form of marketing? What do you think?”

In short, Cook-Greuter’s paper provides a thorough understanding of what it means to operate at various developmental levels, which can be applied to one’s larger understanding of the world. Internalizing this “operating manual” of sorts for our culture has profound implications for making sense of the world, the relationships we have with one another, and where customers and enterprising solutions best fit in.

Now it’s your turn! What do you think? What evidence have you seen that our collective consciousness is progressing in the direction described and how do you feel that impacts the discipline of marketing?

(Image source)

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