Us humans live with an insatiable desire to understand ourselves. The plethora of psychologists, life coaches, gurus, self-help books, Kardashians and carny folk all exist as testament to our (mostly unproductive) quest for insight into our own 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 sciences and experimental fields like behavioural economics, that most of what we do happens without our awareness, driven by emotion and then disguised with 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 the truth is that customers don’t really know what they actually want. Worse, if you were to ask them directly, it’s more than likely that they would 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.
What we now know about people is that our desires are very fluid, depending on the situation we find ourselves in. Macro context factors such as prevailing trends, social group 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 things are placed next to on a shelf – all work on our unconscious to guide our desires in a specific direction.
What all of 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. And what this means for marketers is that the only path available for creating meaningful connections with people – for living a customer-centric vision – is to consider people not as singular entities, but more thinly sliced as people existing within a moment.
This idea of the importance of a moment is hardly revolutionary. Indeed, moment marketing was one of the biggest trends emerging on WARC in 2016, so it is likely familiar at least as a concept to most people within the marcomms industry. But so fundamentally is this idea linked to the human condition that it bears more consideration than simply passing through as a trending topic.
And in particular, it demands examination for what it means in terms of 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.
What an acceptance of moment-driven behaviour demands, probably above everything else, is 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 with young adults looking to understand snacking behaviour. Following behaviour over a period of weeks we were able to determine that what people chose to buy, and why, was almost entirely determined by social group and social occasion, rather than individual tastes and preferences. In a completely different category, as we observed customers moving through an insurance claim process, their contact channel desires morphed depending on the shape of their momentary context, and which channel created the most ease as a result.
In both cases, understanding the person as an individual would not help us understand how to address their needs anywhere near as much as understanding the interaction moment and its components.
Watch, don’t ask
The second major consideration that emerges in how we must go about understanding people, based on the moment focus, is that for our understanding to be meaningful it must come from observation of behaviour and analysis and contextual factors. We must understand what people are actually doing, and we must deduce within this how the environment is impacting behaviour. Given that most of our decision making happens without our understanding, it is particularly true that we as individuals are very unlikely to appreciate how our context is impacting our behaviour. In-depth interviewing, surveying and other direct response insight measures will not lead us to a correct understanding of the opportunity as marketers. 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 at a supermarket fixture. 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 coded how people behaved. In close to two thirds of cases, people simply sighted a product, grabbed and left – there was no opportunity in their behaviour for 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. What this told us was that 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 as an ice-cream brand, or determining that competitive positioning on shelf or in chiller 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 focused on the motivations of individuals.
Understanding moments creates success.
- Andrew Lewis is the managing director of TRA.