Jordan Peterson and Marketing


How would you link the content of Jordan Peterson's '12 Rules for Life' to the field of marketing?

Gary's Answer: 

I have written a number of books on sales (my biggest sellers) and an award-winning book on marketing. I have found myself rewriting my new book on sales based on some ideas in Peterson’s work. His latest book applies narrowly to but very powerfully to sales and marketing.

First, this is a book of rules regarding how to live your life. It is written especially for young people. It explains how the life works, both socially and psychologically and how we, as individuals, can best present ourselves to the world to make our lives the most meaningful.

Its rules do not directly relate to business, like those other general works like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which, though written about war, can be applied directly to any form of competition, from marketing to sports.

It is a book, however, about certain aspects of group and individual psychology, which is a proper focus for marketing. It offers a perspective on the world that offers a lot of meaning for people. Peterson’s popularity demonstrates there is a huge, unrequited hunger for the type of meaning that Peterson is offering. As Peterson himself would tell you, these ideas are not his invention, but the archetypes that are the foundation for civilization as we know it.

One of the most powerful reasons that many people buy products today is the sense of identity that they give those who buy them. Peterson’s work points directly to an area that is underserved by today’s markets. In a recent interview with Peterson, Russell Brand, stand-up comedian and activist, argued that our consumer society has set itself up in opposition to an individual's search for meaning. Peterson did not express any view on this, but the fact that his book is a product and selling well and promotes individual meaning proves that some products can benefit from understanding this basic human need.

This is a market that has been served by religions institutions since the beginning of recorded history, but many of today’s religious institutions have lost touch with modern culture. While I am a firm believer in the value of religious traditions, Peterson’s popularity shows that there is a need for a bridge between modern society and traditional values. The hunger which religion serves remains, but many haven’t developed a palate that can appreciate the traditional flavors that traditional religion offers.

This coincides with the need in modern marketing to focus less on the “group” and more and more on the individual. The desire of individuals to seek an identity by belonging to certain groups is breaking down. Those pushing group identities call this process “intersectionality”, the breakdown of group identity by the various intersections among groups, dividing us into small and small groups until we get down to the unique individual. Peterson makes the argument that this process is the death knell of the group identity politics.

We can see this problem as undermining the marketing positions of large corporate identities. Google and Facebook might currently have market dominance, but their dominance is being undermined by people not wanting to “belong” to these mega-brands, which increasing insist on conformity from their users. The desire of individuals to escape from corporation behemoths has always been the seed for marketing new organizations. In Peterson’s terms, these hierarchies have not only grown more quickly than those in the past, but they have ossified and become corrupted by the power more quickly as well.

There are many markets in which this creates obvious opportunities such as the traditional entertainment media. Entertainment is already fragmenting under the pressure of technology. At the same time, film and TV have moved toward politically correct content. Traditional roles of men and women have gotten harder and harder to portray in a manner acceptable to the new morality police of political culture. This has left a huge market hole for traditional stories built on traditional archetypes that created the entertainment industry. The current rise of religious movies is driven by this market demand. I also expect the rise in movies from places like India, where the traditional roles of the sexes as still acceptable.

I could go on and on, but I have done enough of that already.