Three Ways to Catch a Consumer

Posted by Kate Jurras on Fri, Sep 14, 2012

tom resized 600This post is part of the September blog series. With FutureM coming in October (do you have your pass yet?!), we're thinking a lot about marketers and consumers, and this series reflects that. We asked our writers to answer this question: "what is it going to take for marketers to catch up to consumers?" We'll be sharing several posts each week of the month. Stay tuned for diverse viewpoints and creative answers to this question. This post is by Tom Anderson. Tom is a Partner at Weymouth Design, a full-service branding agency with offices in Boston and San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter at TomAndersonWD.

Well, it may be hopeless. I am thinking of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” where one never catches up:

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,    
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;    
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,    
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

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Not that I want to romanticize consumers. But they are ahead. And have moved further ahead, with their own conversations about you, with their multitude of devices, with their mobility, with their technology-induced ADD and their crowd-sourced wisdom. What’s a poor marketer to do? Well, give up and start a rock and roll band. Alternatively, consider these steps:
Go Big Board Data Surfing

We are dealing with 50-foot waves of data, more than has ever been available. There are so many more points of digital and physical contact that can be monitored and acted upon. You can be crushed by the volume of data, obviously. Or ride the wave.

Brian Kardon, CMO at Lattice Engines, notes in a recent blog post that sales reps are struggling to deal with the volume of information available, internally and externally, and the time it takes to generate insights from that data. There is sophisticated marketing software with predictive analytics that can help sort and prioritize this sea of data, and, well, predict, consumer behavior.

To catch-up: Use technology. Use analytics. And act on it - shift resources around smartly, and deliberately, and boldly. A former colleague of mine at Vistaprint, Bridget O’Brien, is doing just that, based on the smart use of customer insight and analytics, and helping marketing drive that organization’s steep trajectory.

Whether you are a big brand manager at P&G with the latest marketing software, or the marcom manager at a local produce start-up getting the most out of Google Analytics and your Constant Contact account, actionable analytics are key. Creative use of analytics is key. Of course.
Surf’s up.

Fire Up the Creative Engines

We can’t all be John Keats, or Steve Jobs. Well, no one can. But you can optimize your creative teams, and you can optimize yourself.

First, your team: I’ve been holding on to a copy of an article from Science magazine since 2005, that talks about team optimization: Team Assembly Mechanisms Determine Collaborative Network Structure and Team Performance*.  I found it fascinating.

The researchers looked at Broadway musicals for over 100 years, and the composition of those teams, as well as the composition of scientific teams across social psychology, economics, ecology and astronomy disciplines that had articles published in technical journals.  For high performance teams – award winning musicals and publications in the top journals – there were remarkable similarities in team composition in terms of diversity of newcomers and incumbents. (Except for astronomy, for some reason).  Their research has continued. I’d encourage you to look at a talk by Brian Uzzi, PhD, a professor at Northwestern University, on YouTube, from July of 2012.

My take away: pay attention to the size and diversity of a creative team. There is a sweet spot of diversity that includes people with prior relationships, and people new to working together; people experienced with a particular challenge, and people seeing it for the first time.  There is a risk to working too long together – and creating a closed system, i.e., “we’ve always done this this way,” and a risk of never had worked together, i.e., “let’s do something we know nothing about.” Think Mission Impossible teams. Think about your mother’s favorite musical. Think about “molecule of the year.” Competence of the creative team – and its size and composition – matters.

Optimizing yourself: well, its a constant, personal endeavor, and there are books and articles and a sea of self-help gurus to provide fuel and oxygen and ignition. Consider reading Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (by John J. Ratey; Little, Brown and Company, 2008)  – not about creativity at all, but about the need for, and results of, exercising six hours a week, with two days at high intensity. Major brain impact. Major health impact. I’d hypothesize: major creative impact. Also, it helps to go orthogonal. Learn something new. Do something different. Read Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning (by Gary Marcus; Penguin Group, 2012),” and realize, well, we can do so much more than what we think we can. (It also opens up that rock-and-roll band option).

Full-Tilt Empathy

The most important way to catch up to consumers: run in their shoes, feel what they feel, see what they see. Easy to say. I have some kind and successful poet friends who do it naturally, who are so acutely attuned to other people’s emotions they can anticipate what you are going to feel before you feel it. Predictive empathetics. We all are not poets, but empathy is teachable. Reading helps. Switching roles helps – physicians becoming patients, students teachers.

Full-tilt empathy - it’s a way to catch up. See behind the consumer need. See behind the consumer desire. Walk through the steps and think of your “ideal consumer” confronting a problem, or challenge, or need.

Infuse your analytical insights and your creative work with empathy, and you have a far better chance of catching up.

And maybe switch positions on that Grecian Urn.

*Science 29 April 2005, Volume 308, no. 5722, pp 697-702