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The Inconvenient Customer

July 17, 2013

Customers are no longer cattle.

For marketers, our lives have become far harder. In developed markets, the “lift pitch” we call advertising has fewer floors to travel with the customer.

We need to be crisper, sharper. Simpler.

Brand and product choice has truly exploded, competitor speed to market is shorter, distribution channels are easier, quicker and wider – and price, unless you can always be the cheapest, is but a short-term protector of sales and usually comes with the inextricable corollary of a long-term perception of quality compromise.

It’s all rather tricky.

To make matters worse, this customer has become far more multi-faceted. The working mom, the stay-at-home dad, part-time, flexi, Skype-in, remote locations, freelance, consultants – they’re darn well fashioning their careers and jobs around their lifestyles as opposed to vice versa. “SOHO” is now becoming even more “boho”.

Information is consumed in bytes and bites. It’s like a smorgasbord of knowledge and entertainment options where you are able to choose snacks and bits from Twitter, Facebook, the local newspaper (if you still read physical paper), your best global sites and blogs – and it’ll most probably all happen on your phone, tablet, laptop and maybe television .

Watching my kids consume media is fascinating (as an advertiser, terrifying). It’s all on their terms. If it’s not of interest, they move on quickly. There’s no waiting to see if it gets interesting. It’s like watching only sports highlights, goal after goal, wicket after wicket. Keep the fun coming or I’m going.

I read an article about David Lynch the other day – the famed director of among other things, Twin Peaks (we were all fascinated by it’s loopy and well-crafted weirdness at the time). I was given the magazine (a very good freebie called Shortlist – also on shortlist.com) whilst flying Turkish Airlines. Lynch, at 67 years old, is described also as “a painter, guru, cartoonist and musician”. The interviewer asks him about the scary ‘C word’ – in this context it’s convention – the supposed horror of living a non multi-faceted life.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, the model was at first to emulate the lives of ones parents – and their parents. You chose a responsible career (one which earned a steady income over the long term – it wasn’t that much about job fulfillment really). You maybe had a traditional hobby (one). You read the morning paper, watched the evening news, followed your sports team and raised your kids. Done.

Truth is, most of us today, like David Lynch – aware or not – strive to do more, live more, experience more. That’s why there is more on offer.

And that’s why there is also less. They co-exist like Ying and Yang.

More choice, less certainty. More options, less time. More time, less urgency. Less urgency, more laziness. It’s not as simplistic as this, but you get the gist.

More clutter. Less simplicity.

The opportunity for us amongst all this complexity of choice, media, technology, distraction and violent competition for time is what one of my bosses, Maurice Saatchi, calls “Brutal Simplicity of Thought”.

In a time of chaos and over-choice, opportunity arises to “be the threshing machine that separates the wheat from the chaff”.

Relevance of message is always the true north of any communication. Without relevance you may as well not even advertise. And when I say “relevance”, here is the shocking part…I don’t mean to the client or the agency – I mean to the customer. The inconvenient one that I’ve described above that is fighting for just a tiny bit of air in their often self-imposed, oversubscribed lives. Because that’s how we live today.

For you see, if we are indeed these “threshing machines”, we provide new opportunity for challenger brands to become market leaders, we create space for entirely new brands to come to market. We destabilize the status quo because customers are now getting used to making quick choices around relevance – be they emotionally based or on product intrinsics (usually both, but certainly more the former than the latter).

Customers are no longer cattle. Walking that same path twixt home and work – buying the same stuff for the same reasons. They are more open to suggestion than ever before. They lead varied lives. Many of us travel more than Christopher Columbus did in simply doing our job.

And the generation coming up behind us is even less concerned about ‘tried and trusted’. They’ll decide for themselves, thank you very much.

Our new friend, David Lynch was also asked about directing ads (which he’s done a number of). The question was around a strict creative brief, unlike a movie, which must surely be far more restricting for him? His answer was, “restrictions are interesting for creativity”.

So where’s the sweet spot? Well, if you restrict yourself to what is entirely relevant but never boring, just fresh – so it’s unexpected and brutally simple, I suspect what you’ll give the customer is “brutal simplicity of choice”.

And possibly nobody else will.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sean permalink
    July 18, 2013 8:17 am

    Thanks Mike, I really enjoyed that.

    I like to think of the sweet spot as: “Make every interaction generous”.

    It pretty much says the same thing: Surprisingly thoughtful and relevant 🙂

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