Infusing Humanity into the Data
"Growth declines occur not because a market becomes oversaturated, but because of the failure of management to understand the market (Levitt, 1960)." Levitt’s Marketing Myopia theory significantly shifted the paradigm from selling products to marketing products specifically to meet consumer needs. Now, 30+ years late, I asked myself have we moved the needle forward on understanding the market? With information and technology abounding, we definitely have lots more data. We’re gathering a startling amount of information on every single individual. The levels of arcane and audacious knowledge we have about what they buy, what they are shopping for, where they are hanging out at any moment of the day, what they are watching on their four different screens, how much they paid for an item, is astounding. Forgive me for being contrary, but I am increasingly persuaded that this level of information, while fascinating and glittery, can be diverting us from real human knowledge and understanding.
I ask whether this single focus on generating data and metrics is distorting our marketing reality. Glaringly obvious is that we have failed miserably to infuse humanity into the equation by connecting the data to consumers’ basic drives – a drive to succeed, a drive to see their children play more, a drive to be free from responsibility. We have failed to connect the data and metrics with our consumers’ exciting world and all the external forces and cultural trends that greatly impact their brand interactions. The data helps us understand how to include our customers as partners in building our brands because it’s our customers—real people—who give the products and services we create, life and longevity, by making them a part of their own lives.
Have we connected the data to the needs hierarchy of a brand to help us with an approach that starts with a societal benefit that filters to the product and emotional benefits? Buy-on-give-one, Toms, despite a crowded marketplace of Tom’s knock-offs at much cheaper prices, continues on a growth strategy. The folks at Toms understand a new kind of human consumerism – engaging with consumers to build a better world. Unilever, a big legacy brand, has made a significant pivot and committed itself to taking on one of the world’s most pressing health problems – preventable child deaths from diarrhea and other infections. Humanity is at play in both of these examples!
The path for brands to understanding the marketplace today will require infusing humanity into the equation. It will mean looking for what the data doesn’t say, won’t say, can’t say. It will mean being agile in converting troves of data into simple, understandable human insights that unlock creativity in a practical, feasible way. It includes informed intuition. So, the message is simple: human understanding of the marketplace is the new marketing frontier.