The Future Is Human
There’s a common misconception within the corporate world when designing new business models – the idea that the “Mass Market” still exists.
You can see how this happens – executives receive data on hundreds of thousands of customers, which eventually begin to look like statistics instead of people.
The team starts talking about demographics in broad generalisations, and begins to build faulty assumptions into their calculations.
When we talk about futuristic technology, we tend to think of dehumanisation – that we’ll be treated and processed as widgets, as if we had barcodes on our bodies.
Funnily enough, that’s not how people work.
Yes, technology can be used to treat people as faceless cohorts, but the companies who try it tend to implode.
Technology also has the power to create incredible amounts of personalisation – treating people as unique individuals and catering to their tastes.
For example, it’s no longer appropriate to segregate the big new companies as being in the “tech industry” – tech is now part of every industry.
Airbnb puts a face to every host, and every traveller. It gives everyone a voice to talk about themselves, and the experience they had with their accommodation.
Netflix makes personalised recommendations, notifying you whenever a new show or movie is added that they think you’ll like.
Spotify creates personalised playlists of new music that it thinks you’ll like based on your ever-changing tastes. I estimate that I find about 100 new songs I love every year thanks to this feature, many that I would have otherwise never encountered.
Amazon suggests ideas for complementary products that match what you’ve recently searched for, whilst also giving you the chance to read/post reviews about your experience with a product. We tend to trust other people more than companies themselves, especially when the review seems fair. I think I trust a 4-star review more than a 5-star one?
Audible puts forward ideas for new books you’ll enjoy, and prompts customers to “share” a book they love with a friend – who gets to listen to it for free.
Instead of spam, they’re using their platform for people to make credible recommendations, which are appreciated by new customers and guarantee that their first impressions of Audible are positive.
Seth Godin’s excellent book We Are All Weird puts forward the idea that the “Mass Market” no longer exists.
Think of it this way – how many normal people do you know?
Probably not many, because the more you get to understand how their minds work, the more eccentric they appear.
Back in the golden era of television and billboards, the aim was to create generalised, inoffensive sales pitches to millions of eyeballs.
The problem is, we’ve become skilled at tuning out traditional advertising, and we don’t like being treated as “Mass Market”.
We’re selfish by nature – craving attention and special treatment.
We tell ourselves that we’re unique, so when a company comes along and says “Yes you are, and here’s something we’ve created just for you…” we tend to respond positively.
Technology gives us the ability to reach our customers easily, and use analytics to track and measure their effectiveness.
This is sometimes described as Growth Hacking, the idea that if you can make a series of tweaks to your online campaigns that each increase traffic, clicks and purchases by 2-3% at a time, you’ll see enormous increases in revenue each year.
It’s a fascinating topic that is fast becoming essential – gone are the days of “spray and pray” marketing, where we would put an ad in the newspaper and hope our orders increase.
Instead, we can immediately track our effectiveness by seeing exactly who visits our site, where they came from how long they stay, where they click, and how many of them make a purchase.
However, this needs to be paired with genuine empathy for your customer. It’s not simply a question of “do people click more on a circle or a square icon?”, but a question of what they’re looking for, what drives them and what narratives they tell themselves.
The marketer Bob Levenson started writing every ad with the words “Dear Charlie…”.
His work was so influential because he knew that sales communication is one-to-one, rather than one-to-many.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that you can add someone’s first name to the start of a mass email and expect to be taken seriously – that’s a gimmick that’s been done to death.
In a one-to-one interaction, you need to know a lot about the person you’re talking to.
If you don’t know much about them, go ask them yourself – people are generally happy to talk about what they love and what they hate.
If you’re going to treat me as an individual, it means you understand that I like things that other people don’t.
In other words, I would need a different message than you’d send to my dad or my elderly neighbour.
Michael Gerber talks about this in The E Myth Revisited, about a memorable stay in a hotel.
Each morning, a copy of his favourite newspaper was delivered to his room – a magical, touching gesture in the 20th century.
He eventually worked out how they did it: when checking in, customers fill in a survey that included a question about their preferred paper, which then stays in the hotel’s system, allowing them to consistently delight their customers each time visit.
This is why we use Personas when designing new value propositions – because we’re making a pitch to a person, not a generic stereotype.
When you start viewing customers as real people, it’s hard not to empathise with their pain points and aspirations.
You’ll also discover how irrational people are: we tell ourselves that we make logical decisions, but our spending habits say otherwise.
In reality, we make snap judgements and impulse purchases, get spooked by certain numbers, misinterpret prices, and close the tab when things look complicated.
This area of study is called Behavioural Economics, the exploration of the weird ways our minds work, and the impact that has on our choices.
It’s also full of memorable stories:
A&W’s failed 1/3rd Pound Burger - customers instinctively processed it as being smaller than a Quarter Pounder.
Supermarkets creating artificial limits on specials (e.g. max 6 boxes per customer) which makes people instinctively buy more than when no limit is advertised.
Professor Richard Thaler giving students their grades out of 137, because 96/137 looks much better than 70%, and therefore attracts fewer objections.
The airport which received many complaints about waiting times at the baggage carousel, so they moved the carousel further away from the gates.
ame amount of time, but the complaints stopped immediately.
If you want to connect with your customers, stop treating them as herds of generic consumers, and start viewing them as wonderful, bizarre people whose lives you can improve.
It will change what you sell, how you sell it, and how you price it – we’re happy to pay overs for something that delights us.
The other choice is that you don’t, and your competitor does this instead.
People vote with their feet, and they’ve already voted away from magazines, hotels, bookstores, taxis, cable television and department stores.
Don’t be next.
For more on behavioural economics, I recommend Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Misbehaving by Richard Thaler.
The two best books on the topic are Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday (a great introduction) and Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown (a deeper dive with practical applications).