john st. unignorable - Blog the book of john

Consumers aren’t irrational. They just have multiple identities

March 19, 2015 at 2:15pm by Arthur Fleischmann

A recent article in the HBR posited that people have many personal identities. For example someone might be a Leaf’s fan, doting father, fitness buff and foodie. But at any given time, they are not all of these things at once. In fact, the situation we find ourselves in will dictate which identity – and therefore what motivators and attitudes we hold – is prominent. For example, when cooking dinner or choosing a wine, a person is not really either a doting father or devoted Maple Leaf’s fan.

And these identities can shift at the drop of a hat.

“Subtle shifts in social context can dramatically change what group we identify with at any instant. Waiting in the business lounge to board a plane, we might reach for Harvard Business Review, not just for its content but also, subconsciously, to reinforce our identity as a successful executive. A chance conversation about the background music with a neighbor in the lounge, however, might lead us instead to choose a music magazine to reinforce our identity as a rock fan,” say the authors.

Consider their example of Axe in Italy (or Lynx as it is called). While the brand’s TV campaign was a screaming success in many parts of Europe, in Italy it was total flop. Turns out that young men live at home longer in Italy and while in their parents’ home, their identity of “devoted son” outweighs that of “horny teen”. Once the campaign was moved to billboards and in-venue advertising where these males congregated (away from the watchful eye of Mamma) the brand took off.  Lot’s of great examples in this article.

So if people’s various identities drive purchase behaviors, it follows that these identities drive attitudes in market research (the article supports this notion). In research, respondents identify with their “helpful respondent” identity – a complete artifice which leads to responses that don’t match how people behave as consumers.  This is why so much research is not predictive.

So what can we do? Look for ways to engage with consumers in natural settings when their mindset (identity) aligns to the product category we’re selling. As social listening tools improve, eavesdropping on real conversations becomes a better choice than the artificial dialogues created in focus groups and interviews.

Next time you think about your consumer, think about their identity, not just on their demographic and lifestyle.



join the discussion

website - optional
Add Comment

about the blog of john

On the blog of john you’ll find short articles written by our people. It will include thoughts and opinions on advertising, brand strategy, planning, digital, social media, design, careers, pop culture and relevant trends.