For as long as I can remember, I've always had a sense that I was meant to do something remarkable with my life. Something audacious. Something awesome. I don't say that to be boastful, as I don't necessarily see myself better than the next man. We all have talents that are unique to each one of us. While some people are fortunate enough to find their path early in life and spend the majority of their days exercising themselves in their gift, others spend their lives looking but never fully realize their potential. We're all on a path to do something great, despite adversity and disappointment. I call this journey "the pursuit of dopeness" and this talk details my journey. I hope your find it helpful as you pursue your own.
It’s been said that good marketers see consumers as complete human beings with all the dimensions real people have. But do we marketers really understand people?
For decades we used demographics to identify and segment groups of people in an effort to create better products, serve relevant messages, and forecast more accurate predictions. This is the holy grail of marketing.
But demographics don’t describe “real people.” While gender, race, age, household income, and other demography-based inputs are “truths,” they are static facts and do not accurately describe who people truly are. This, of course, is why savvy marketers focus their segmentation efforts (to whom they target their messages) on psychographics — people’s interests, preferences, and attitudes — because they paint a more vivid picture of "real people.”
Now we’re getting somewhere, but not close enough because psychographics are merely byproducts of our networks. And networks are much better indicators of who people are, and what they are likely to do.
Let’s unpack this further.
By “networks,” I mean the groups of people with whom we exchange information, experiences, and behaviors: friends, family, classmates, co-workers, teammates, congregates... our people.
And our people give insight to who we are and how we see the world. Within each of our networks are shared beliefs, unwritten rules, rituals, and social norms that guide the behaviors of the people in the network. As Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal,” and these dynamics are the glue that keep our people connected.
Much of our daily life is governed by norms — unwritten rules we follow to remain community members in good standing. As such, our interests, proclivities, and actions tend to follow the way of our networks and spread in a predictable and contagious fashion.
Our networks inform our psychographics. Therefore, not only are our networks more powerful descriptors of who we truly are than typical demographics, but they are also more holistic representations of ourselves than psychographics alone.
Unfortunately, traditional marketing segmentation misses the mark. Common practice identifies groups of people based on demographics (with a bit of psychographic seasoning) and buckets them into target audiences — a group of passive people waiting for marketing messages to wash over them.
But people aren’t passive, and audiences aren’t real, so this approach often leads to broad generalizations and trite overtures. Peek into most creative briefs, and chances are you’ll see brands targeting “millennials,” as if everyone between the ages of 18-34 are the same because they were born within the same generation. It just isn’t so. As a result, marketers make blanket generalizations about a cohort of dynamic people, and the subsequent work often falls flat.
What a waste.
Networks, on the other hand, are dynamic, human, and innately social. And people use their networks to describe themselves. Take me, for example. I’m a Collins, I’m a Michigan Wolverine, and I’m a non-denomination Christian. I subscribe to these networks and take on their respective characteristics to stay in good standing with my people — as we all do with our own unique networks.
Understanding the dynamics of these networks is the gateway to consumer intimacy and relationship development because these groups of people are, in short, real. Marketers would benefit greatly by shifting their focus from talking at passive “target audiences” to engaging with active “target networks.”
Even more interesting, networks are also more accurate indicators of what we’re likely to do. This is heavily supported by behavioral science research. Humans are naturally inclined to take on the actions of the people around us, so much so that our behavior can be predicted from exposure to the example behavior of others. And we are most influenced when we observe the behavior of people most like ourselves — our networks. That means if brands can understand the dynamics of my network, then not only will they better understand me, they’ll also be able to predict my behavior with a high degree of probability.
Now that’s powerful.
These predictions are driven by the natural propensity that people have to rely on one another. We’ve built trust within our networks and rely on their expertise and experiences to help inform our decisions. In fact, research shows that we trust the recommendations of our people more than any form of advertisement or media.
The collective intelligence of our networks help us decide where we go, what products we consume, who we vote for, and which brands we choose. As a result, our consumption patterns naturally follow that of our networks. Want to predict what people will do next?
Watch the behavior of their networks.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, we are not independent agents in this world, where our decisions are driven by our preferences and IQ. Rather, we live in complex systems — networks of people — where members therein help shape each other’s affects, cognitions, perceptions, and beliefs. We rely on our ability to learn from the behaviors of our people, and they set the example for how members of the network should also behave. These networks move forward on the basis of a simple, subconscious, question: “Do people like me do something like this?”
If the answer is "yes," then we follow suit; if "no," then we don't take action.
We don't inquire.
We don't share.
We don't buy.
It’s that simple. And it all starts with people — real people — and the influence of their networks. This sets the stage for a more actionable approach where brands can deliver ideas, products, and communications in an effort to influence consumer behavior.
Considering the ubiquity of social media in today’s connected world, marketers can now apply network thinking to the use of these tools in a way that promotes social pass-along and enables more accurate predictions.
Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day. It's this time of year when sappy, indulgent love songs reach their peak rotation on the radio and Spotify playlists. They latch onto our eardrums, sneak into our subconscious, and stay there on repeat for weeks on end. These songs, in some way or another, profess an end-of-the-world love, a promise of undying affection and dedication, all in hopes of wooing a love interest. Songs that say Don’t leave me. Take me back. Reciprocate my overture. Say “you love me, too." I can’t help but notice a resemblance between our beloved ballads and brand advertising.
Like the singers in love songs, brands make big promises in their marketing communications, to both current and potential consumers, begging and pleading “Baby, baby, please…!” Brands use catchy language, music mnemonics and featured performers (i.e., celebrity endorsers), all in an effort to woo consumers into relationships that lead to action: Buy. Share. Click. Search. Sample.
But much like true love, it’s not enough to say it, brands also have to prove it. Smart marketers are moving beyond just brand communications (saying it) to focus on brand kinetics (behaving it).
As we find ourselves nearing Valentine’s Day this year, it’s a good reminder for brands to do a little less declaring and a little more demonstrating. Or as Madonna puts it, “get into the groove, boy, you have to prove your love to me!” On that note, here are three things to consider:
(1) “You can’t hurry love, you just have to wait”
Love takes time. If a couple says “I love you” after the first date, we immediately become skeptical of its merits. However, marketers are constantly looking for love to bloom within a quarter because that’s when their performance numbers are due. Intuitively, it doesn’t make sense, but brands are showing up in more places and more frequently - thanks to programmatic buying and retargeting - in hopes of “developing a relationship” quickly. Some may see this as persistence, but in many instances this level of stalking would turn someone off. Brands have to be willing to put in the time it takes to build a meaningful relationship the right way.
(2) “Try not to hide what you feel deep inside/if you care, you must dare to be free as the air”
As Earth, Wind, & Fire proclaimed, brands have to let their feelings show. When a brand’s beliefs are reflected in its behaviors, it sends a clear signal that the brand is “about it.” REI’s decision to close its stores during Black Friday is a great example of this, because beyond PR value, it was a demonstrative representation of its core beliefs. REI believes the outdoors are meant to be explored, so it encouraged consumers to spend their day off exploring, not shopping. Though the decision might have cost REI potential revenue on an important day for retail, it was far more important for them to represent their truth. And isn’t that what we expect of any overture of love?
(3) “Because I need somebody who will stand by me”
When it comes to love, it’s the hard times that prove the “real” vs the “fake.” A perfect example of this is Tristan Walker’s Bevel. The company founded a core shaving system product for men of color. It was meant to be an alternative to Gillette and other mainstream shaving products that did not meet the unique sensitivities of black men shavers. Walker launched Bevel as a subscription based service to remedy these pain points with a product “for us, by us.” After three successful years, Walker has reportedly received offers to the tune of $500 million to acquire Bevel from the very same companies that previously ignored Bevel’s target consumer, considering it too small. Sounds like a payday, right? Rather, Walker has remained committed to the brand’s core consumer. Bevel is putting a stake in the ground to say this is “for us, by us” despite potential riches, letting core customers know that this is truly the “real thing.”
(4) “No chocolate covered candy hearts to give away”
According to Stevie Wonder, our motives for “showing love” have to be more than just a holiday. Brands must remember true love should be demonstrated all year round, not just at designated moments. It’s too convenient for marketers to show moms appreciation on Mother’s Day or in support of a new product launch, but those that show their love throughout the year stand to build strong, authentic relationships. American Express demonstrated its commitment to small business owners with Open Forum, a platform that creates and curates content to help small business owners avoid the pitfalls of entrepreneurship and turbo charge their efforts by sharing the knowledge and experiences of successful companies. They also created Small Business Saturday to help small businesses thrive during the critical holiday retail season, which has even resulted in other brands using the day as a moment to show small business owners love.
Perhaps the 90’s band Extreme was really onto something with their classic ballad, “More Than Words.” The lyrics read “More than words/is all you have to do to make it real/then you wouldn't have to say that you love me/cause I'd already know.” In the world of marketing, truer words have never been spoken. If brands are to cut through the clutter and truly establish relationships with would-be and current consumers, these marketers have to move beyond communications and start focusing their efforts on kinetics, because actions speak louder than words.