The trouble marketers get into with privacy comes when personalization crosses over from personal relevance to personalized design. Because that’s when individual surveillance gets into the mix. It’s surprising to me how tone-deaf so many marketers are about this.
As an industry, we’ve convinced ourselves that customer-centricity means more data, more tracking, more scanning, more details. We tell ourselves that we’re just getting to know the customer and the more we know, the better we’ll be able to personalize the design of products, ads and customer service. What we’ve talked ourselves into, though, is surveillance.
We’ve missed the point. The ultimate objective is not design. The objective is relevance, from which design follows.
The history of consumer marketing is proof positive that relevance can be delivered without surveillance. Only in the past 15 years have the data and digital tools of personal surveillance been available to us. The 100+ years before that saw plenty of brands become household names by delivering products and services that millions of consumers found relevant to their personal lives. Personalized design might be needed for personal relevance, but more often than not, relevance can be accomplished without individual surveillance.
There are a finite number of need-states that a human being can have. There are a finite number of emotions. And a finite number of lifestages, living situations, household structures, and lifestyle choices. Additionally, we are social creatures. We seek out group identities and we follow the lead of others in making personal decisions. The marketplace cycles through fads and vogues. Things come and go. But the old saw is true—the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In other words, just about everything we need to know about consumers can be learned by studying groups.
That’s why marketing theory is most closely aligned with social psychology and sociology, both of which study groups and how individuals are affected by group norms and group dynamics. This is the process by which marketing becomes relevant to individual people. What’s relevant are the ways in which groups come together to sort through a fixed number of ways of living. These social decisions create a set of needs that group members share in common. Great marketing targets those needs, and the fact that those needs are shared provides the scale required for such marketing to be profitable.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer, Brand & Marketing at Kantar
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education
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