30 August 2006

Who are you?

How would you describe yourself? Your spouse or a friend? Your boss or a colleague at work? Your customers or business associates? What adjectives or descriptors would you use? How would you classify or categorise them as similar to, or different from, you? How would you accept or analyse or respond to their behaviour? How would you decide whether you, or a person you have in mind, are fit for a specific relationship?

These questions are no longer solely in the domain of psychologists or those involved in motivational research. Today’s marketers and creators of brands are equally interested in using motivational research to identify and find consumers for their brands – motivating them to buy not just once, but more and more, and even refer your brands to others exactly like them – and build lasting relationships with them.

Unfortunately, most theories on motivation, and the research that accompanies them, have been used in the corporate world for HR and personnel evaluation, and for team-building purposes. The MBTI, 16PF, TAT and FIRO-B assessments, among several others, are typical examples of this practice. Very little of motivational research is used for marketing. Marketing’s ever-present market research usually deals with consumption.

Yet, questions like ‘Who are you? Why do you do the things you do? Why do you buy the things you buy?’ have dogged marketers and creators of brands ever since the Industrial Revolution spun off mass manufacture. And, in spite of marketers offering a single product for their customers (remember Ford in a single colour, black?), markets have become fragmented according to different consumer needs and wants… as well as consumer response to marketing messages.

Thousands of consumer segments have emerged across geographic, economic and socio-cultural backgrounds, indicating that consumer expectations from a product or a brand really do vary from individual to individual. New research, using new techniques, is now available to address these consumer expectations, and creators of brands are now beginning to experiment with avant-garde theories of motivation and consumer behaviour. Mette Kristine Oustrup’s mood theory and elemental experience (see my previous post ‘Elemental’) are some recent examples of this practice.

However, there’s a lot we can still learn from older theories of motivation. But, that would mean we have to go back a hundred years.

28 August 2006

Please understand me

In his book, ‘Please Understand Me II, Temperament Character Intelligence’, David Keirsey writes, “the point of this [book] is that people differ from each other, and that no amount of getting after them is going to change them. Nor is there any reason to change them, because the differences are probably good.” He goes on to say, “The task of sculpting others into our own likeness fails before it begins. Ask people to change their character, and you ask the impossible.”

If this is true, then not only is it a huge learning for a marketing strategist like me, it is also something of a roadblock. For, essentially, the job of a marketing strategist is to understand and change the way people behave towards, shop for, and use brands. If people’s attitudes and behaviour cannot be changed, because attitudes and behaviour are derived from their character and their temperament, then a strategist’s job is near impossible. Perhaps, even meaningless.

David Keirsey, who has done an enormous amount of work on understanding people, their character and their temperament, suggests that people belong to one of 16 temperament types, grouped according to common human traits. Understanding a person’s temperament type (from the matrix of 16 types that he offers), and accepting the fact that his or her temperament (type) may be different from ours, is the key to understanding people and what motivates them. He also cautions us that, “Our attempts to reshape others may produce change, but the change is distortion rather than transformation.”

To the marketing profession, and the marketing strategist in particular, this study of temperament and character leads to various avenues of understanding consumers, their behaviour towards brands and how they shop for them. However, David Keirsey leaves consumer behaviour squarely in our hands, preferring to stick to aspects of human compatibility in life and in the workplace. Much of his work – as reflected in his book, ‘Please Understand Me II’ – deals with human behaviour in terms of leadership, parenting and mating.

19 August 2006

Types, and human behaviour

Marketers are not the only ones who wish to know who their customers are and what makes them buy their brands. We all wish to know what type of people we are and why we do the things we do.

This is not something humans have thought up recently, say, with the advent of industrialisation and mass consumption. Nor has it developed from the time Sigmund Freud and his team began their work on psychology. Man’s interest in understanding himself, what moves and drives him to do the things he does, individually and collectively, has been central to the development of philosophy for thousands of years. Not just in the West with great philosophers like Socrates, but also in the East… with countries like India, China and Japan arriving at their own solutions.

Interestingly, this subject of understanding human behaviour has not been confined to the realms of philosophy alone. It has included nature, science, medicine, history, literature, and even cosmology. The result of all the thinking and observing and learning and analysing by these philosophers across the world – as well as in their own domains – has led to some common grounds. The chief among them is finding (or trying to find) a method of classifying human beings into ‘types’ with common traits. A rather astounding inference from this is the fact that humans are basically of four or five types.

With no psychoanalysis or psychometric tests, no consumer behaviour theories or sales data, to back them up, these philosophers had to rely on the only thing they believed was the source of everything they saw and felt as true: Nature. So, they took the basic elements from nature and applied them to human behaviour and, hey presto, they arrived at a theory of human behaviour. The essence of it, simply, was that man behaved according to his ‘type’. And the ‘type’ was determined by matching his personality with the four or five elements from nature.

These elements were [the Hindu name is indicated in brackets] fire (agni), water (jala), air (vayu), earth (bhumi), and aether (akasha). There was some dispute concerning the number of elements (whether four or five) in nature, with some philosophers having dropped aether from the list. But more or less, philosophers from both the West and the East seemed to have arrived at the same conclusion… on their own. These elements and their corresponding human types were what the world was made of; and even today, many philosophers, psychologists, scientists, cosmologists and marketers believe there is a lot of truth in this typology.

If this subject interests you, you will certainly find this webpage [on the Classical (Greek) elements], ‘Elemental: The Four Elements,’ from Tracey Marks interesting reading.

18 August 2006


If we are what we buy, then we are also what we say and do when we buy them. In short, we are how we behave, typically, at a point of purchase such as a retail store.

This aspect of buyer behaviour has fascinated marketers, merchandisers, interior designers, psychologists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists and others for some time now. Shoppers have been stalked at stores and shopping malls; they have been interviewed and surveyed; and even secretly video-taped. Because, not only do marketers want to know the answer to what we buy, they also want to know how and why we buy them, and when and from where.

There are volumes written on the subject of consumer behaviour, some of it actually discussing consumer behaviour at a point of purchase, which is what matters a lot to marketers and brand managers. A portion of this smaller universe has an even smaller universe – an area of specialisation, you might say – dealing with the subject of how our basic nature influences our buying behaviour, typically, at a point of purchase like a retail store or a shopping mall.

This relatively new subject deals with techniques – and, of course, the theory that goes along with them – on how to create greater consumer and brand experiences in a retail environment. Once again, much has been written about consumer experiences in the retail environment, but not a great deal that actually considers our individual personalities in relation to the retail stores we visit and buy from. The hypothesis, that our basic personality type can determine our buying behaviour, is a relatively new one.

In the past, most of the discussions on buying behaviour have been on demographic profiles of consumers and their lifestyles. It’s only recently that marketers, designers, psychologists, etc. have got together and tried to understand the deeper emotional connection that exists between consumers, the brands they buy and the places they buy these brands from. Easier said than done! The question is, how do we measure consumer emotional experience?

Since this subject interests me as well, I was delighted to receive an email from Mette Kristine Oustrup, detailing some of the work that she is doing in this area. Ms Oustrup, an inspiration behind MOOD theory, calls this fascinating subject ‘Elemental Experience Design’ (EED) and has built her recent work around it. To find out more about Mette Kristine Oustrup and EED, why not visit her website or download the latest from her elemental experience?

16 August 2006

We are what we buy

Our loyalty to brands defines who we are. We are what we buy.

The more faithful we are to a loyalty programme, the greater the rewards we earn and enjoy. And now, with a wide range of participating partner companies, ready to woo us every step of the way, our urge to venture outside the loyalty circle is reduced substantially. It makes sense to limit our choices of purchase to a few brands and optimise our rewards. In fact, many of us do so, hungrily.

This makes us valuable prospects in the hands of those managing the loyalty programmes. Purchase transaction data is collected at points of purchase, then collated, sliced and diced, sorted and analysed to generate qualified leads for prospective brand purchases. Thus, allowing marketers and their brands to send personalised advertising messages and make customised offers to us, catering to our needs with more and more accuracy.

Moreover, with IT and telecommunications as the driving forces, many loyalty programmes are now online, helping their programme managers track and analyse our purchase data in real time. Every time we identify ourselves online (sometimes unknowingly through cookies) or in real life with our loyalty ID number, our entire purchase history and customer profile is available to the programme manager. In the future, with RFID (radio frequency identification) built into our loyalty cards, it becomes even better. Marketers and brand managers can make customised offers on-the-spot as we visit a point of purchase.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s a look into the future of loyalty programmes: Remember the scene in the film 'Minority Report' when Tom Cruise, after replacing his eyes with another person’s to change his ID (the RFID chip was embedded in the eyes), enters a mall and is greeted with various offers as he moves past the counters? That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the future of customer loyalty. That future is almost here.

14 August 2006

Loyalty can be bought, even traded

In business – and in life too – loyalty can be bought. Even traded. In fact, at times, it might be necessary to do so.

Take the airline industry, for example. Most of the airlines are hard-pressed at putting up frequent flyer programmes – eventually leading to full-fledged loyalty programmes – just to keep up in business. Competition is stiff; costs are soaring; and customers seem to drift away every time another airline offers a lower fare. So, they add up the miles travelled by their customers, award points on the number of miles, and exchange the points for tickets or upgrades or gifts.

Customers are happy because they would travel those miles anyway – whichever airline they choose to fly on. For the business travellers, this is a huge bonus, because the fare is most likely paid by their company, yet the miles and the points accrue in their names. Indeed, it’s a happy situation for the customer. They choose to fly, frequently, if not always, on the airline that offers to pay for their loyalty. And, why not? We all want a little appreciation for our loyalty.

The airlines are, of course, business entities. They take their business of rewarding their frequent flyers seriously. They look upon customer loyalty as an investment, necessary to stay ahead in the game. So, they turn the frequent flyer programme into a brand – creating a brand name, a logo, a customer identity plan, a rewards system, a whole new travel experience, and all the paraphernalia that goes with it – and market it wholeheartedly. The strategy behind it being competitive differentiation.

The airlines use their frequent flyer brands to pitch for price-sensitive customers who are otherwise being drawn into the low-fare net by, typically, new upstart carriers. But that’s only one-half of the strategy. The airlines also use the frequent flyer brand to insulate their own business travellers – who are, incidentally, their primary revenue base – from price sensitivity. And, if opportunity prevails, even ask for a premium price and offset it with rewards galore.

It’s a simple system of rewarding and debiting frequent flyers on usage. But, expensive for the airlines to run. Tickets cost money; upgrades cost money; gifts cost money. However, undaunted, the airlines have thought of ways to reward customers without having to give away tickets or upgrades or gifts… simply by tying up with a bevy of partners: travel destinations, hotels, restaurants, car rental agencies, telephone and mobilephone services, shopping malls and retail stores, credit card companies, insurance companies, etc.

There seems to be an endless list of such partners... most of whom are willing to pay a little extra per mile to partner well-established frequent flyer programmes. Where else would they find a database of such ‘pre-qualified’ customers! As it turns out, this trading of loyalty miles is a pretty good source of prepaid travel for the airlines. So much so that, now, frequent flyer programmes not only make up for the administrative costs of running the programme, but actually add some revenue directly to the airline’s bottomline.

For airlines with well-established frequent flyer programmes, there’s no turning back on rewarding customer loyalty. After all, it’s now a necessity. Customer loyalty now ensures they remain competitive in the marketplace.

12 August 2006

True loyalty

True loyalty, like true love, is difficult to find. And, even if it’s found, it’s difficult to keep. For, true loyalty is a burden most of us can’t bear for long. For, true loyalty is a hindrance to our freedom.

Of course, the term ‘loyalty’ by itself means ‘being true or faithful to’. So, perhaps, ‘true loyalty’ is superfluous – a euphemism we can do without. The question is, can we do without loyalty?

Usually, by loyalty we mean commitment – a seamless, boundless, unconditional and dedicated relationship which promises to bring us not just material benefits, and in business a fat profit, but also comfort and happiness.

Of course, we all deserve this. But, we often forget that there’s a price we have to pay for such commitment. A price, that begins as a show of interest, and then builds into a succession of costs as proof of our loyalty.

Certainly, this can’t be our idea of freedom! To be anchored to a relationship and be controlled by it for a lifetime!

Fortunately, life, our partners and our professions – as well as businesses and brands we are affiliated to – offer us incentives from time to time, re-fuelling our commitment and keeping our faith.

11 August 2006

The trouble with networking and loyalty

Both in life and in work, I’ve found networking and loyalty go hand in hand. They are inseparable, like twins. The principles they are built on are not just similar, but intertwined.

When it comes to networking and/or loyalty, the premise we normally work on is that both networks and loyalty programmes are set up for our benefit. They are there to help us achieve our goals and objectives, our jobs and businesses, our passions and happiness. It doesn’t matter what or how much the other people – i.e. the members, users, customers, business associates, etc. – gain from the networks or the loyalty programmes, so long we benefit from it.

We believe, a network or a loyalty programme is really an extension of who we are, and that it should cater to our needs first. Sometimes, at all cost. We believe that we own the network or the loyalty programme, and it is our birthright to leverage it to our greatest advantage. Sadly, the trouble with networking, as well as loyalty, is the superior attitude with which we embark on it – and try to maintain it. No wonder so few social or business or even niche networks, not to mention customer loyalty programmes, are successful.

So, what should we do to improve the situation?

We need to understand two things clearly. First, we alone don’t own the network or the loyalty programme. Every member, user, customer, associate or person – in short, every connection – in the network or in the loyalty programme is a part owner and has a stake in it. Second, the network or the loyalty programme must benefit every member, if it is to benefit us in any way. Perhaps it will not benefit all of them, nor on every occasion, nor in equal measures, nor immediately, nor exactly when we plan for it… but some benefit must accrue in every member’s favour in the long run.

This is likely to happen more often – and with much more payback – if we realise that we really need to care more about the success of the people in our networks and our loyalty programmes, than we do for ourselves. For, therein lies the essence of networking and loyalty.

10 August 2006

Birds of a feather flock together

There’s a lot of truth in the adage ‘birds of a feather flock together’ – and social networks are a living proof of this.

Social networks bring us things we desire, adding value to our lives and creating opportunities which we would not have otherwise found for ourselves. Some of these ‘things’ are intangibles, such as connecting us with people just like us, so we can share our lives with them. And in the process, we can also have fun, entertain ourselves, enjoy developing our hobbies and passions, and build our careers and businesses.

There have always been social networks which have brought people together over common interests and ideals. In the Christian society, for example, the Church has always encouraged this, as it does even today, with the notion of keeping together people of the same faith. Although traditionally, religion and culture have been the prime movers of social networks, today, there are social networks belonging to almost every sphere of life.

However, unlike the animal kingdom where birds of a feather always flock together, human social networks are open to the vagaries of human behaviour. In short, there is little loyalty in human social networks. Their members (both offline and online) often switch networks when something more exciting comes along, or if their friends and associates leave one network for another. Or, they drop out altogether when they simply lose interest.

This leaves us with a problem – that of retaining members in our social networks. What seems to be natural instinctive behaviour (and a law) in the animal kingdom, turns out to be a marketing dilemma in the human world.

06 August 2006

Are we socially global or local?

Social networks are not new phenomena. They’ve been around ever since man became civilised and brought some order into living in groups. In the early days of social networking, the reach of the network was contained geographically. The concept of the globe was limited and people networked locally. In fact, homogeneity is a key feature of a strong social network; and, in the early days, sheer geographic limitations, by default, ensured social networks remained homogeneous.

With the Internet, the concept of the globe has expanded in multiple dimensions and, now, we all talk about a borderless world. Even the concept of time has taken on a new understanding. Obviously this has affected social networking. Today, it’s not strange to find people from India networking online with others in the UK, the US, Australia or anywhere else in the world for that matter. That’s because, the Internet has made us into global citizens and online social networking has now become a global reality.

But, how different is an online social network from a real one? Leaving aside the global reach it allows and the speed at which communication and sharing of information (including audio, video, picture and other data files) takes place, not much really.

Online social networkers hang out with friends just like their real counterparts. And, apart from talking about (this list is taken from yesterday’s post) music, movies, books, shopping, events, parties, dating and sex, they also talk about (this list has been added with inputs from my online social networking readers who were shocked to see that I had forgotten to mention) fashion, food, art, sports, travel, jokes and gossip. But, the interesting thing is, networking online isn’t enough. Online social networkers subsequently meet up and spend time with their online friends out in the real world.

Perhaps for this reason, most online social networks tend to have a somewhat local concentration. For instance, MySpace, the most successful online social network with 100 million registered profiles, has a strong concentration in the US. Reportedly, 86% of its users reside in the US alone. In fact, most countries have their own popular online social networks, enabling people not only to talk to others and share their passions with them, but also to meet with those around them from time to time.

According to Cliff Kurtzman, CEO of ADASTRO Inc., and his article, ‘Marketing to the MySpace Generation & The Economics of Social Networking’, “people are often using online social media to create relationships and connections which will enhance their lives away from the computer while interacting out in the ‘real world’.” After all, it’s human to want to be physically close to other human beings – and we can fulfil this need only locally.

05 August 2006

Gen Y and why we should learn from them

A friend of mine was narrating a story about an old (i.e. aged 71) client of his who was petrified of moving to a new place. It was not the city (Pune) he was moving to, nor the flat he was moving into (a rather spacious apartment compared to his smaller Mumbai dwelling) that worried him, but the anticipation of living a lonely life. He had asked my friend, almost in horror, “But Sunil, at my age, will I be able to make new friends?”

When it comes to baby boomers like Sunil’s client, and somewhat middle-aged Gen X people like me (ok, I admit, I’m a borderline case), moving to a new place always carries with it the worry of not being able to make new friends and facing up to a lonely life. The thing is, old fogies like us aren’t quite spirited enough to go out and make friends. Nor are we quick enough – nor evolved enough – to take advantage of social networks that we can build right from home… through the Internet.

You see, old habits die hard. We’re too engrossed with reading newspapers, watching TV, talking over the telephone, or visiting friends and family to realise that, now, there are new socially-accepted – and easier – ways of making friends through online social networks. Online social networks are abuzz with millions of users, from all over the world, making friends and building communities of like-minded people. However, it’s the 16-24 years age group – the proverbial Gen Y – that’s having all the fun. If you stretch it a bit, you'll get some 25-30 year olds as well. But the rest of us are left out of the picture.

What’s common with this Gen Y group is that ‘old’ habits of reading newspapers and magazines, or watching TV, are no longer as appealing to them as they are to us. It’s not that Gen Y people don’t read newspapers or watch TV, it’s just that these media channels don’t hold their attention for long. These old-world media channels lack interactivity – the one thing that most of us are looking for. Gen Y seems to have found it in online social networking, leaving us to our lonely lives.

What Gen Y-ers do on these social networks is what most of us are yearning for. They hang out with friends, talking about music, movies, books (well, maybe not that much), shopping, events, parties, dating and sex. Exchanging news and ideas, constantly interacting. And, as registration to these online social networks is free, Gen Y-ers eagerly create their personal profiles, telling their personal stories (not all of it is truthful, mind you) to groups of friends just like them. Building their own communities.

Moreover, since online social networks allow a veil of anonymity to its users, even the shyest Gen Y-er with the poorest interpersonal skills is becoming a prolific networker… making friends almost everyday. Now, isn’t there something we can learn from them?

04 August 2006

Achieving balance

Our love for a place doesn’t happen through tourist brochures or research on the Net or even through quick fits of yearning when we travel to a new destination (though I’ve heard this has happened to some), but by building close relationships with them over time. Most of these relationships are built slowly, painfully. A new place means making adjustments: new neighbourhoods, new shopping experiences, new traffic, new schedules, new sights and smells and noises – and new people.

The truth is, when we connect with places, we connect with the people there. It’s unlikely that we would love a place if we felt, and/or believed, the people there were awful. Our love for a place and its people is usually one – and inseparable. No mater what our motivation is for moving to a new place, a relationship with a place usually means building relationships with its people.

So, when I moved from Kolkata to Mumbai – a career move made some 12 years ago – I turned to my profession for support. Not for economic support in terms of finding jobs or assignments, but from the point of view of using my professional learning and experience to smooth out the rough edges of moving in to a new place and building new relationships. Alas, I was at a loss. My profession, marketing communication, was not much help here.

It’s not that marketing communication doesn’t deal with relationships – it definitely does. But its relationships are not with people, nor with places. It encourages us to build relationships with products and services and retail stores… in effect, with brands. In effect, with something quite intangible! Not only did I discover this, I found that, in my profession, relationships are expected to be instant. Here and now. Leaving me very little time to sit back and enjoy it all.

It was dismaying – even unnerving – at first; but after 12 years, I seem to have achieved some sort of balance.

01 August 2006

Connecting with places

Is there something in the geography, something topographical, that attracts a person to a place? You know, some people like to live on mountains, some by the sea, that sort of thing. Or, is it something cultural, maybe even anthropological, that determines the connections we make with places? Does it have something to do with the kind of people we get along with – more than with others?

The answers to these questions can be revealing. For, the connections we make with places define our identity – and our self-esteem. They speak to us of how we perceive ourselves; what experiences excite or sadden us; what relationships we are willing to build with the communities around us. And, if we dig deep enough into the relationships we have with places, we can discover how, as individuals, we celebrate, alter, extend and repress our identity from time to time to suit our temperament and our personality.

When I think about my life and how I’ve given up many good jobs to follow an offbeat, less secure future as a marketing consultant, changing cities and cultures, I sometimes wonder how it has defined – and redefined – my identity and my self-esteem. I wonder how I have built new relationships and, perhaps, severed others. How I have found meaning and respect in my work at the cost of my ambition. How I have been honest with myself and, in the process, lost opportunities.

Our identity and our future are both connected with the place we choose to make our home… or our place of work. What may seem arbitrary may really be a pre-determined process.