Anthropology: a different, overlooked approach to marketing success
Cofounder, Chief Creative Marketer and Strategist
The solution is deep and simple, yet perceived as unattainable.
I was a junior marketing major at Canisius College when I noticed an anomaly on my course curriculum. Sociocultural Anthropology taught by the great H. James Birx. On the first day of class, I overheard some of my classmates questioning the syllabus with comments like, “What does this have to do with marketing?” and the comical “I was unaware that Gorillas and Chimps have financial resources to buy product.” The comments may have been a bit justified after watching a video on the sexuality of Bonobos, but the whole class grew to understand and appreciate the necessary integration of Anthropology and Marketing.
In short, Anthropology is the study of what makes us human, the cultural constructs and sets of beliefs that drive us to behave in the manners we do. On the surface, especially in a socio-cultural light, many marketers may think that they are already integrating Anthropology with Marketing. But the deeper we look, the more we realize that marketing has been too often obsessed with discovering current customer needs, data and numbers, and responding with current marketing trends that supposedly initiate customer responses. Please excuse me as I beat the “customers-have-an-ever-growing-number-of-choices-and-marketing-communication-platforms-today reminder drum”—boom! boom! boom! boom! boom!
Anthropology is a great, sustainable discipline to boost your customer getting distinction in the era of too many choices, too much logical-first communication, and too much commoditization. Just think of this… Did you know that companies such as eBay, Hewlett Packard and ADP have kickstarted the trend of hiring “In-House Anthropologists”.
Here are 3 ways you can apply Anthropology to your marketing strategy:
1. Focus on the Customers’ Subconscious, not Conscious.
It’s an all too common misconception to believe that buying decisions take place at the conscious level. 95% of human buying decisions are directed by subconscious mental activity—the activity that stores and retrieves data based on your programmed self-concepts. This is where marketers stimulate a customer’s memory, emotions, goals, feelings, habits, relationships and even their spiritual side. So how do you market to the subconscious? Here are two recommendations. First, choose a Marcomm Strategy that is Deep and Simple, not Shallow and Complex. The more you force a customer to perform rational thought at the point of communication, the more likely your message will not access their subconscious mind [ie. it will stay in the shallow end]. To rapidly access the subconscious, keep your messaging deep and simple, especially the communication of implicit or psychological benefits your customers can experience, while using a predictive logical framework second so you can gradually invite the conscious logical mind into the decision making process. Buyer’s Journeys are perfect examples of this as many brands have launched failed programs by rushing to share decision-level content and correspondence at the awareness-level. Right now you may be asking, “Yeah, but how do you know what the customer’s targeted implicit or psychological benefits are?” Second, perform Implicit Association Tests. We recently performed extensive IATs for a midwest Startup to discover what the target market looked for in companies of a similar discipline, what logos, colors, names, slogans and taglines meant to them, their initial thoughts/attitudes/beliefs of the startup’s brand, and why they chose what company when given the choice. IATs are cost- and time-efficient when compared to immersing yourself with the customers in-person [see next recommendation…] or collecting data that can expose intriguing behavioral trends [see last recommendation…].
2. Launch a Customer Immersion Program
I’m always surprised by some clients reluctance to do this because it’s actually the most informative, bears the most fruit, and it’s fun! Customer Immersion Programs are simply simulated or first-hand experiences of customers interacting with your brand/product and your competition’s brand/product, and the most accurate observations of their behavior and thinking. Please do not mistake this for a focus group. The goal here is to establish the most important subconscious trait there is—TRUST—by experiencing what the customers experience side-by-side, face-to-face. These programs are perfect for introducing new messaging, packaging or product, and for developing, optimizing or updating buyer personas. CIPs are especially important for buyer personas because we’re always uncovering shared traits between different personas, and this can go a long way in such disciplines as positioning, product development and customer service. Another key takeaway, especially in B2B, is observing the formation and interaction of buying teams. We recommended to one of our clients in a saturated market to sit down with different players of their clients’ buying teams to discover what unique problems their content should address, and what was born was content made specifically for each team member, which leads us to my last recommendation…
3. Don’t Just Segment your Personas, Track Your Personas Behavior
Spending years in the Marketing Automation / Lead Gen / Email Marketing world, I’m always amazed by the flatness of reporting, the expectations of short-term results, and the lack of evolution in programs. Why? Because there are patterns of behavioral data developing at your fingertips that can expose new insights to shorten the sales funnel, create and optimize content, and more! Unlike the obvious virtual and personal interaction of the previous two recommendations, this is more of an unobvious observation of customer behavior that still achieves an insider perspective [an essential key to marketing success!]. Here’s a client example. We had four personas that made up a buyer team: the CIO, the CFO, the IT Director and the IT Manager, all of which contributed to the decision making process. We also had a dozen pieces of content that either delivered a unique advantage for the buying team overall, or for the individual persona to strengthen their role [great subconscious targeting!]. What came out of this program was the WWWWWH [who, what, where, why, when and how] predictability for future marketing. We were able to discover the patterns and behaviors of each persona: who downloaded what content and when, who they shared the content with, where and how they downloaded the content, what they did after downloading the content, why they downloaded the content, and so on and so forth. You get the picture. From these observations of the buyer personas and the B2B cultures that they work in, the marketing programs were elevated to new heights, creating more timely content that satisfied not just the buying team and individual personas, but the subteams that we didn’t know exist and that required an established level of personalization and trust.
Lastly, Gut Instinct and Reciprocity. Don’t forget that once you satisfy the subconscious of the customer, you will not only integrate with their “gut”, but you’ll also encourage one of the greatest expressions of human behavior there is—sharing with others.
Friendly Disclaimer: I’m not an Anthropologist. I’m an advocate for the study of the subject, and I practice applying Anthropology to marketing as much as possible, but I’m not a seasoned Anthropologist. However, if you want to talk about it, reach out to me.