Not Your Father’s Consumer Behavior

Marketing is Communication

Not Your Father's Consumer Behavior

This past weekend was Father’s Day. It got me thinking about my father. I never thought I’d really follow in his footsteps (at least after I turned 9, anyway). He was in marketing. When I look at what I do, it seems strange to label it the same as his job. Marketing and consumer behaviors are so different across this span of just a few decades. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal is the same.

In years past, a televised commercial, a billboard or a magazine ad would net real returns and easily quantifiable results. For every dollar spent on traditional marketing and advertising, a projected return could be accurately drawn. While it’s still possible to project returns in our new landscape, that accuracy isn’t nearly as reliable. There are several factors that have become more and more important with each new technology. As new channels (not just HBO or ESPN8, but streaming TV, satellite radio, internet broadcasts, smartphone programming and gaming console publications), are introduced to the public, the percentage of target audience members in front of any given channel diminishes.

The Problem is Choice

Not Your Father's Consumer Behavior

50 years ago, the average consumer had less choices of where to shop, and less options for entertainment, news and information. Market analysis meant predicting product interest in a market region and comparing the target age group against television programs or publications. Today, we can use modern resources to determine exactly what device, show, venue or activity our target persona (read about or make your own personas) is engaged with at any given moment. If you truly know your customer, you can find them and plan on how to get your message in front of them. You can evaluate their behavior and determine the best times to show them your messaging. Is that scary?


I used to think that consumer behavior tracking and statistic gathering was all very Big Brother. But, the more it starts to play out for me, the more I like it. Most of my devices are used for development and marketing research, so my behavior patterns are skewed. Those devices or accounts that aren’t used that way hint of the promise of well sorted data. Ads about products that interest me, news that is relevant to my life and entertainment that is tailored for me all seem to lead me toward a science fiction version of my own life.

However, there are still lots of gaps in that marketing. Channels that haven’t been properly leveraged just play the same few ads over and over. Banners struggle to recognize my interests – if my wife spends a few minutes on my phone, her searches can get misinterpreted as my latest hobby. Apps offer idealistic capabilities and graciously allow me to fill out lengthy surveys and chat directly with experts, only to bury my suggestions and requests under a mountain of data…

Still, as more and more entities get it right, I like that the machines know what I like. Let them keep track of where I am so they can recommend local events, restaurants and shops. Let them keep track of what I earn so they can sell me things that are in my budget. If they’d just get it right!

So, you’re asking, how do I get my product in front of my customer, right? If you’ve already learned about personas, and you know who your customer is, it shouldn’t be too hard to find them. In fact, a little exploratory marketing (drop us a line if you’re looking for help in that area), will help you zero in on which channels reach more of your audience. The problem is that with so many choices, your audience is spread out. If you take the generalist approach, sending your message to the largest volume of consumers, it will almost certainly get lost under the wheels of the larger brand machines in the industry. If you focus on channels that contain mostly your target audience, your ROI might come up short as not enough conversions come out of your investment. To further muddy the waters, today consumer behaviors and popular channels change so rapidly that a carefully worked out strategy in 2014 might be obsolete by now.

So, what’s a business or an entrepreneur to do? Well, you know this one already. One of the first things you learned in business school (or the school of experience). Delegate. Hire a dedicated professional to determine who your target audiences are, and where they are/will be. We’ve done some of the leg work, so use our persona worksheets. Use in-house staff, have your PR company task a junior with the assignment, get your most promising intern to do it – you can use our guidelines, or as part of a larger assignment, we’ll train you or your staff. Coordinate that data with your marketing team and launch campaigns that target your best audiences with your message. What, you don’t have a marketing team? Then you definitely need to call us 😉 (or someone)! Whether you do it yourself, outsource it or use your own staff, you should match your marketing message with your customer and your customer with your products. Don’t forget, business to business companies still have target audiences – they are usually called buyers. Those buyers and other decision makers have channels of interest and can be marketed to just like any other audience.

Our world has changed again.

The Evolution of Advertising

Not Your Father's Consumer Behavior

Young & Rubicam CEO Edward Bond Jr. said in 1967, people are no longer the only commodity in marketing or sales and that competition for the “profit” dollar will only continue to grow. 50 years ago the ad company exec made a few predictions that have come true beyond his wildest expectations.

Not Your Father's Ad Agency

As Bond knew all those years ago, our world has changed and it will keep changing. The way we communicate, socialize and the way we do business will continue to change with each new technology that we accept. One concept that gets overlooked often, lately, is that as marketing technologies and advertising services get more user-friendly and DIY-capable, the pool of competing ads gets larger. 50 years ago, a few dozen giant ad agencies did battle with each other across the best time slots and in highly prized publications, for the most attention and the most memorable marketing. Today, literally hundreds of thousands of micro companies, entrepreneurs and hobbyists continuously compete for your attention, right in your pocket. The sheer volume of choices makes it more necessary for your voice to be heard today, and the vast array of techniques in use means that your message should be presented with enough quality and precision to be taken seriously.

Rich Harris
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