Us humans live with an insatiable desire to understand ourselves.
In a nutshell
- Not only are our true desires hidden from us, our desires are also constantly shifting, depending on the moment we find ourselves in.
- For marketers this means that the only path available for creating meaningful connection with people – for living a customer-centric vision – is to consider people not as singular entities, but as people existing within a moment.
- We must focus on context, and understanding both environment and behaviour to garner insights that can drive customer-centric thinking.
The plethora of psychologists, life coaches, self-help books, and Kardashians all exist as testament to our (mostly unproductive) quest for insight into the human condition.
A big driver of this desire for understanding is that our motivations and reasons for decision-making are largely hidden from us. We know from cognitive science and behavioural economics that most of what we do happens without our awareness, driven by emotion and disguised by a misleading veneer of rational processing.
All of which makes a marketer’s quest for customer-centricity a bit tricky. Our job is to give people what they desire, but customers don’t really know what they want. Worse, if you asked them directly they would likely tell you the wrong thing, as our rational system tries to logically derive an answer to a question it doesn’t understand.
And things get even more blurry for marketers when we consider the fundamental idea of changing context when understanding our desires.
People existing within a moment
We now know that our desires are very fluid, depending on our situation. Macro context such as trends, social groups and the particular environment we are in all shape our decision making in profound ways. Similarly, micro context factors do the same – the colour of an item, the music that’s playing, what something is placed next to on a shelf – all work on our unconscious to guide our desires in a specific direction.
What this means is that not only are our true desires hidden from us, our desires are also constantly shifting, depending on the moment we find ourselves in. For marketers this means that the only path available for creating meaningful connection with people – for living a customer-centric vision – is to consider people not as singular entities, but as people existing within a moment.
This idea of the importance of a moment is hardly revolutionary – moment marketing was one of the biggest trends emerging on WARC in 2016. But this idea is so fundamentally linked to the human condition that it bears more consideration than simply passing through as a trending topic.
And in particular, it demands that we examine how we go about gaining insights into people that are capable of driving successful marketing interventions, as it is from this place that customer-centricity will either succeed or fail for a business.
Context is king
An acceptance of moment-driven behaviour demands that we start paying far more attention to the context in which decisions are made, rather than singularly focusing on an individual to understand their motivations. Rather than looking within a person to understand why a choice is being made, as marketers we must instead focus externally. If people behave differently in different moments, what is happening around the person to drive these differences in behaviour? The person is unchanged, so what is it that is changing?
There is a great example of this in some recent work we did looking at the snacking behaviour of young adults. We determined that what people chose to buy, and why, was almost entirely determined by social group and occasion, rather than individual tastes and preferences. And in the insurance category we observed customers moving through a claim process and found that their contact channel desires morphed depending on the shape of their momentary context.
In both cases, understanding the person as an individual would not have helped us understand how to address their needs anywhere near as much as understanding the interaction moment and its components.
The second major consideration to bear in mind with the moment focus is that for our understanding to be meaningful we must understand what people are actually doing, and we must deduce within this how environment is impacting behaviour. Given that most of our decision making happens without our understanding, as individuals we are unlikely to appreciate how our context is impacting our behaviour. In-depth interviewing, surveying and other direct response insight measures will not enable marketers to understand an opportunity. We must look to other approaches, such as analysis of behavioural data, ethnographic analysis and cultural currents to determine where true insight lies.
Again, we have a great example of this from some recent work we conducted looking at how people buy a particular product in the supermarket. Asking people how they selected what they just bought told us that price and promotional discount were critical in a huge amount of decision making. However, we also filmed the fixture over 12 hours and found that in close to two thirds of cases, people simply sighted a product, grabbed and left – there was no examination of prices or comparison with promotional items. In conjunction with some trade-off experiments we were able to determine that most people were selecting the first product they sighted within an acceptable set of alternatives. Promotional pricing didn’t matter – it was winning the salience battle against a select few other brands that mattered most.
The importance of these two ideas – focusing on context, and understanding both environment and behaviour – is that in doing so we are much more likely to garner insights as marketers that can drive customer-centric thinking. By understanding which occasions and moments are the right ones to target, or determining that competitive positioning in store are the key determinants of success, we are able to deploy interventions that will be much more successful in creating positive outcomes than ones which simply focus on the motivations of individuals.
Understanding moments creates success.