Before I get started on this post let me make one thing absolutely clear. I am a DATA JUNKIE. My job is to develop digital products, online destinations and engagement campaigns using the latest behavioral scoring technology available; technology that allows one to gather primary data on the audience that is interacting with the products. Lately, I have really had a hard time embracing granular segmentation strategies especially around B2B and product development. I mean, who are we talking to anyways? Glass buildings and steel infrastructures or is there a better way to approach this? The notion that consumers or, for simplicity sake, HUMANS are not the collective influence of a corporation and its day to day decision makers makes traditional B2B marketing a flawed construct that should be re-examined. Well this got me thinking even deeper... or shallower for that matter. Let me start by discussing the problem as I see it. We'll get to a new approach I am pursuing just a bit later in the post.
The DemoEduSocioEthnicIndustrial Complex
The tools available for measuring the likes and dislikes of different people, segmentation against an infinite number of variables -- they are amazing. It's where a lot of people start when developing messages for different groups of their customer base or defining attributes to build into their products. I've used them all and they are interesting. However, for small to medium sized businesses, they are generally useless. They do not take the place of a creatively designed product. I've all but quit using them. You may ask, "why in the hell would you quit relying on these amazing tools?"
So here goes my answer... Marketers have, as a group, bought off on the "group-think" notion of what I am calling the DemoEduSocioEthnicIndustrial Complex. Consultants all use the same Demographic Segmentation Tools, and PRIZM NE segments (secondary marketing data) that include catchy names like Young Digerati, Fast-Track Families, The Cosmopolitans, Old Milltowns, and Multi-Culti Mosaics - when it comes to consumer product & marketing research.
The problem is, many of these tools are, in my opinion, used on the frontend of a project as a basis for product, positioning and messaging. So let's take a moment and think about this; if everybody is making decisions about the same things, using the same data, what are the implications?
Average Products For Average People And Average (at best) Results
If pretty much all marketing consultants use pretty much the same secondary data as part of their decision methodology (and marrying that up to whatever primary data their clients have which is typically horribly lacking), how are companies to break out from the pack and make an impact - either from a product development, usability or messaging standpoint?
DemoEduSocioEthnicIndustrial Complex Data Creates More Questions Than They Answer
Don't get me wrong! The information provided by these reports are often fascinating and EXTREMELY useful in situations when you already have a strong understanding of your market and a foundatation of PRIMARY DATA on your customers. With a strong foundation or insight on your market/product/customers -- the data is helpful when taking existing primary data and taking business to a new level. In the other case, where primary data is not available (and in many situations where primary data IS available), these tools are so ambiguous that they raise more questions than they answer (which make it GREAT for consultants wanting to charge $$ to answer them) and in general, sidetracks a project from a time perspective. Most of the time, you end up right back where you were when you began the exercise.
No Neilson, comScore, PRIZM, Hitwise Or High Dollar Marketing Consultant? How Are We To Connect With Our Audience?
Let's remember that no tool can replace the foundational creative work of coming up with ideas based on principle. So without "Industry-Leading" demographic measurement tools, consultants that live in the theoretical and naive corporate managers (managers who sincerely want to do the best job possible), how are we to connect with our audience. For me personally, I'm starting to look at human interactions in their most basic forms. Instead of the billions of variables each 66 PRIZM Lifestyle Group segmented by their use on the web, socio-economic status, age, relationship status, race, education and geographic connections, I am looking to find a much more finite way to get to a better place of understanding (in less time), with broader coverage, less room for ambiguity and universal relevance. So here is where I'm going with this.
So How Do We Start To Master Our Similarities?
To get started developing your own perspective of mastering similarities, I have put together a very small list of some of the books I have read that have shaped and lead to my view on the matter. I buy off on the notion of behavioral economics and there being an internal wiring that we all share. Instead of trying to explain what I mean, I've put together some reading that helped be get there. This is the smallest sampling I could put together and you can't just read one and walk away with the framework from which I work. I would also suggest you read these in order.
First Things First; Everything Is Connected
Stay with me here folks. Some numbers are rational such as the number 2. Others are "irrational" such as PI (3.1415926535897932384…) and even more so, PHI (1.618033988749895...). The part that is interesting is that these irrational numbers, particularly Phi, when “visually” represented display a precise geometric relationship that turns out to be ubiquitous in the universe. It is this "Ubiquity" of forms that are constant in the universe that lead to the notion of Systems Theory. The basic idea of system theory is that all things in the universe (people, bugs, galaxies and thoughts) can be viewed as discrete systems, operating under a defined set of rules. While the systems may be different, they exhibit strikingly similar behavior.
There are underlying rules that dictate the formation of these shapes:
- Phi: x2 – x – 1 = 0
- Golden Ratio / Angle: 137.5 degrees
If different systems behave similarly, perhaps it's because they are connected. The fact a simple underlying rule can re-create so much of what is found in nature, suggests these underlying rules govern how everything works.
There different vantage points marketers approach design, positioning and messaging.
From A Micro Perspective:
From a micro perspective we all have our separate realities as individuals. Marketers create separate messaging, separate packaging and separate products just to reach individual groups based on their separate preferences. To me, this is high-effort, low-reward and non-sustainable (unless you have enormous pockets and are extremely lucky). I do believe there is value in search for high-level answers here but only to find similarities at the beginning of the creative process.
From A Macro Perspective:
From this distance, there is not a measurable difference between us. We are a singular unit of thought. This is kinda where I prefer to begin the creative process. My opinion is that most marketers cannot see the forest because they're stuck up in a tree. If anything, I need people to bring me back to the forest because I'm up on Mars somewhere. However, this is my creative process. Maybe this will help you define your creative process, maybe not. There are many different perspectives and many universal truths. Where these overlap is where the magic happens.
Marketing From A Collective Perspective Of "Coherent Ubiquity"
Coherent Ubiquity is the name I came up with to define a heuristic, creative approach to product, design and messaging -- all based on studying the underlying traits that we all have as humans and the factors that motivate and affect us all. If you would like an example of a product with a universally coherent marketing message and ubiquitous design, look at Apple. The Mac, Iphone, Ipod and every accessory they make is designed to have ubiquitous appeal. Now I don't have any inside information about how Apple got to their current state of design, but I would venture to say they took a heuristic approach over the last 25 years or so to get where they are today. Heuristic meaning "a scientific approach to trial & error" in this case. Coherent Ubiquity is an heuristic or iterative approach to creating, designing and messaging products based on universal human appeal. It's a design approach that I methodically followed but did not have a name for until recently. Let me try to put it all into perspective in a different way...
Don't Ideate Based On Our Differences, Let's Master Our Similarities
So how does one learn to "master our similarities?" For me, it's an ongoing process but one that really is steeped in psychology as opposed to marketing. Everyone is typically familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. This is how we are all wired. But before we go any further, let's go just a little bit deeper.
The first book, an oldie (by today's standards) is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials). In this book, Cialdini (the author) introduces you to six principles of ethical persuasion: reciprocity, scarcity, liking, authority, social proof, and commitment/consistency. It's a facinating read and it changed the way I view almost everything in marketing. Then there are the masters of primary data. Fallon, the agency that I respect above almost all, wrote a book - Juicing the Orange: How to Turn Creativity into a Powerful Business Advantage. Of all the books I've read on the subject, this one gives the best perspective around putting primary data into creative actions (they call it "connection planning"). Finding the similiarities your customers all share and creating value around the results.
Finally, there are 2 other books that provide perspective as to how we all make ubiquitous decisions as individuals. The first one, The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, highlights a slew of predictable human bias flaws what we feel is our own objective judgment. And one I just finished reading - Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions - It’s a concise summary of why today’s social science increasingly treats the markets-know-best model as a fairy tale….he and his fellow social scientists want to replace the "rational economic man" model with one that more accurately describes the real laws that drive human choices.
The sum of these books will give you a foundational perspective to come at developing any type of product design, marketing and messaging base on the non-unique factors we all inherit at the moment of conception as well as work with our individual environmental influences thru the gathering of primary, qualitative data. In my opinion, this approach has produced much more success in projects than coming at it from the other approach (the one's I've been involved in anyways). So what would you call this methodology? I put a lot of thought around it and here's what I came up with....
If this still sound a bit "incoherent," keep in mind that I am still chasing this theory. But, it has been influencing the way I approach things for the last few years. I'm not sure if any of us are really meant to understand exactly how we all connect, think, influence, construct and view the world as one. To me, Apple comes closest in developing universal products on universal ergonomics with universal messaging. Google does this well too. This is where I would like to think I'm working toward. Either way, life's a journey, not a destination. I'll keep you posted as I keep modifying this crack-pot theory of mine.