The Antidote Question


The first tool I want to share with you is The Antidote Question: What is your brand an emotional or social antidote to? It comes up on pretty much every project I’ve worked on over the last 5 years and one of the most helpful.

The reason it comes up time and again? It helps define what kinds of stuff your company should really be doing: product design, marketing messages, tone, aesthetics, etc. to truly resonate with your customers.

So, how does it work?

People often buy stuff and associate with certain brands because they scratch an otherwise unreachable itch. Maybe they crave some rustic, rural, analog experiences in their hectic, urban digital lives. Kaufmann Mercantile is a great example of this selling 'slow' and heritage homewares. This is why most of their customers are in big cities even though their aesthetic is often straight-up cabin porn.

An antidote isn’t about getting rid of something bad from your life, it’s about inoculating you and establishing balance. It’s impossible for most people working in New York City to just stop living their hectic lives, so being able to use their cast iron skillet to cook at night can be a momentary but powerful respite.


1. Identify your customer's social or emotional pain-points

Start by describing the world your customers live in. What does it feel like to be them? What are they worried about? What are the pressures they feel? What are they tired of hearing? Write this down. Highlight the key points.

Maybe your customers are 40 year old women who are tired of hearing how 20-somethings are going to change the world. Or perhaps your customers are foodies but are feeling constantly pressured to cook master-chef style meals by every form of food media out there. Your customers might be new dads frustrated with being ignored by, well, every brand of parenting stuff out there. 

2. Clarify what's true about your company/products

Write down all the actual truths about your product/service and company. Don’t write down “benefits”. Write things like, “our products are made in Maine,” or “actual human beings answer our customer service calls,” or “we were founded by a single dad.” Facts. Irrefutable facts.

You can’t just wish to be an antidote to something if it’s not grounded in reality.

3. Articulate what these truths could mean to your customers

Once you’ve got your list of facts, ask these specific questions about each fact using these exact words:

What could it mean for our customers that [we were founded by a single dad]?

What does it say about our values that [a human answers our customer service calls]?

How does it make your customers feel about themselves, or the world they live in? For example, do they feel relaxed? Do they feel more connected to nature? Do they feel more in control? Do they feel like someone's got their back? Etc.

Now go back to Step 1. Do you see any connections? They will be there. You wouldn’t have a business if there aren’t any connections already. But now, hopefully, you can see what the connections are and start making them clearer for your customers through what you do. Are your aesthetics, marketing activities, and product designs all in line with your role as an antidote? 

You can think of this as a kind of “poor man’s research”, but in the absence of big insight budgets or the time it usually takes to do a few focus groups, you can probably get really close all on your own. It’s an important exercise to do whenever you’re planning new products or marketing activities because you can use it to check if you’re actually behaving as the antidote you think you are. 


Further reading

If you’d like to learn more into this territory, you should check out the following books:

Chief Culture Officer by Grant McCracken — How companies can practically identify emerging behaviours and capitalise on them

Cultural Strategy by Douglas Holt and Douglas Cameron — How brands can become the most powerful symbol of an emerging cultural value system

Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks — A little dated, but fundamentally still relevant: how people adopt emotional coping strategies through the brands they buy and experiences they partake in.

Thanks for reading! I really hope it helps, and as this is a first for me, please let me know what you think. Does it help? What would make it more helpful or enjoyable? Want to see more like this? 

Last, a small request...

What are the 2-3 most frustrating questions/issues/challenges you currently face with your company as a brand builder? I want to help and these questions will help me shape future newsletters.

Thanks, again! 

P.S. If there's anyone you think who'd appreciate the Antidote Question, please share this!