Brands in the balance
Tagged in: Blog Opinion
The story of consumer origins
I recently read an insightful piece by Walter Pike, whose constantly-questioning mind I greatly admire. The piece was about how brands can win over non-affiliated consumers. He wittily illustrated this by delineating the comparison of a common political spectacle that happens about once every four years here in S.A. – that is, the far from noble, election campaign. Within this usually hollow hubbub, the various parties’ loyal followers are not, as common wisdom would have it, the contentious targets of the parties’ campaigns (neither as retention, nor acquisition from an opposition’s base). This is because they are already within that party’s orbit, and to remove them from it would be incredibly difficult, depleting much needed resources. It is actually a far more easily swayed object that influence is more readily exerted upon; it is less of an endeavour to nudge the undecided, swing voter towards you or away from your opponents.
Pike’s strategy for brands to acquire this fickle vote is to go back to the beginning, to cleverly abstract the focus from that of the brand to that of the category it falls within. Pike says “... instead of being interested about how they group around the brand, we need to be interested in how they are grouped around the category[, because the] community they belong to is interested in the product/service ...” I agree with Pike that the way to do this is to take ownership of the category space, as well as by understanding the dynamics dividing these groups – and to do that requires facilitating conversations around the “social object” or “camp fire” of that category, thereby enabling the influencers in that ecosystem.
I think Pike does not abstract this far enough though – does not got back to the real beginning. I contend that what Pike is broadly circling, yet never quite nails down, is empathy. He speaks about understanding the dynamics, about consumers’ interest in the category, but does not describe how this came to be. He should, but disappointingly doesn’t, advocate understanding the context in which people come to need the category. What are the pathways that led into the category’s system? Why are these consumers here to begin with?
Maybe I am being unkind. Maybe the suppressed premise of Walter Pike’s argument is the “social object”. Maybe we are simply saying the same thing in different ways. For instance, my partner doesn’t drink Coke for refreshment, she drinks it for the caffeine, which provides her with relief from migraine pain – she drinks water for refreshment. I too only drink water for refreshment – I will, however, on occasion drink Coke in social situations if I do not feel like drinking alcohol. You will notice here that I am making a correlation versus causation argument. My partner and I both share a correlation with Coke, but with different causes – however, we share both correlation and cause with water. The cause (refreshment) is therefore the entry into the system. We share a campfire that values water as a refreshment, but we are in different camps when it comes to drinking Coke. The cause is the determining factor for which campfire I choose to congregate around, and the correlation is merely a byproduct of this cause.
I maintain then that unpacking the various causes for entry into the category is the only way to really understand what will be attractive to a swing voter. Once you understand the many causes or reasons behind the entries into your category, then you can begin to understand how best to steer and facilitate the entire context for your own purposes.
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