Friday, September 16, 2011

Why understand the social animal?

       When you go to the supermarket, do you know why you get to the produce before you get to the beer? Because once you feel you got the healthy stuff, you can indulge in the fun stuff.

        Did you know that at restaurants, people eating alone eat the least, and that people eating with another person eat 35% more than they do at home? We're self-conscious alone, socially conscious with others.

        Did you know that people have two kinds of tastes --- one for now, another for things to be enjoyed later? Blockbusters for now, art films later.

        These and a thousand other things about us are explored in the book, "The Social Animal", by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Through the lives of a composite couple, Erika and Harold, Brooks tells the story of how success happens. It's fun to read, but the path isn't easy. We Americans are hard to understand.

        In his chapter on the brain, Brooks tells the story of how Erica's approach to selling was falling on deaf ears. "Why don't you try a different approach?" asks the customer. "Instead of telling me what you're offering, why don't you ask me what I want?"

        Even with neuromapping and all our wonderous new techniques, I tell my students that it's important to keep in mind that we all have one theme song: "There will never ever be another me." We're all interested in ourselves, our families, our worries. We all have dreams we hope will come true, and fears we hope won't. 

        In marketing, we want to know as much as possible about the customer. In my classes, I often ask my students to do what my boss asked me to do 25 years ago: write a profile of a product's market as if it were one person. What is she like? Where does she live, what does she do, what are her values and attitudes? It's fun to create, and it makes it easier for everyone to understand what the marketing issues are. (In that assignment, I actually had mannequins dressed as the customer of S.C.Johnson's floor polishes, and her family, and had recorded voices to tell their stories.) Essentially that's what Brooks is doing in his book. Helping us get to know middle-class America on a personal level.

       It's been said that advertising is the art of talking to people who don't want to listen. That's because most advertising is about products, and what we're interested mostly is ourselves, the social animal.


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