It may sound funny to even ask this question, but how many businesses really understand their consumers when it comes to developing new products and services, or marketing those products to potential customers? This does not refer to just understanding consumers in the traditional sense of how a product appeals to a specific demographic group. It means really getting down to the nitty-gritty of understanding why consumers act a certain way, how they share information with each other, and what cultural influences are at work in shaping their perceptions and understandings.
This is one area in marketing that is grossly under-represented in contemporary academic and media discussions. Today's consumers have changed dramatically in how they choose to work with the companies and brands they patronize. They have different backgrounds and cultural foundations, receive and process information in new ways, and want to interact on a more personal level. Businesses and marketers that do not search for consumer insights, or who fail to understand their anthropological backgrounds, will not be able to connect or engage with prospects and won't be able to motivate them to become customers.
The anthropological approach to marketing is all about understanding culture. Instead of trying to change behaviors, marketers can learn how to play into them and utilize them to their advantage. Since building a brand is based upon establishing an intellectual and emotional relationship, business planners, product developers and marketers must all take the cultural context into consideration. Culture is not just language, but a combination of historical, tribal and mythological characterizations. A greater understanding of cultural insights and anthropological factors increases the marketer's ability to motivate action and effect behavioral change.
The Forces Behind the Rise of Consumer Insights
As business has grown and evolved, marketers are all well aware that we can no longer try to give consumers "any color they want, so long as it's black," as Henry Ford was so fond of saying. Companies now realize that they need to offer a wide variety of products, services, colors and fashions to appeal to an ever-changing customer base. But why do some products fairly jump off the shelves while others languish in obscurity? Each company may assert that it has done in-depth market research, but have they truly looked for consumer insights which would make their product more desirable?
The make-up of the buying public has changed dramatically in the past decade or two. Consumers now represent a complex mixture of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers, all vying for the attention of corporate planners. Each group has its own specific needs, wants and desires. Without gaining insights into these groups, businesses will never be able to develop products they want, or to promote them in a way that gains attention. Even within these groups, there can be a wide diversity of characteristics. A Baby Boomer who is just approaching retirement has an entirely different mindset than someone who has already been living in Florida for ten years.
Businesses need to culturally understand why each group is different. What was going on as each generation was growing up? What shaped their values and morals? How do they interact with each other and corporations? While an older generation might have been more open to accepting Ford's brusque evaluation, younger consumers will certainly not consent to any such arrangement.
Added to the complex demographic puzzle is the new global economy where consumers can virtually come from any part of the world that has an Internet connection. This will take a massive understanding into the consumer insights that shape buying patterns in various countries. While American consumers might value certain traits, Europeans may have different needs and desires. Even Europe can't be looked at as one giant market; anthropologists will be needed to study the differences from country to country, and even within the various regions of each country. Businesses need to understand how each population relates to the products and services it uses before marketing plans can be set in place.
All of this must also be accomplished in the blink of a virtual eye because the social media universe has made the consumer response swift and unrelenting. Products or services that are brought to market without delving into the reasons why consumers might want them are quickly and unceremoniously laughed off the internet shelf. Social media influencers and advocates can quickly build up a product they like to their circle of influence, or just as easily tear it down.
Consumer-centric marketing is more than just a buzzword. The world has changed dramatically, and continues to evolve rapidly. What appeals to customers one day may not work the next. Businesses need to wake up to this fact and improve their insights into consumer behavior.