“Hit him! HARDER!” I heard myself shouting, a couple of weeks ago, when I attended a welterweight fight in Las Vegas. I was pumped like a mad man, loved the sweat, the blood, the tears. I wanted to see a man go down.
A mere 26 hours before I had given a talk in the ultra-cool office complex of the mega-trendy agency 72 and sunny. Articulate, insightful, smart, witty, not violent at all, I could not have been further from the primal man that I’d become, amidst the crowd in Las Vegas.
Was I the same person? Is the real me, the “me” at a sports event? Or the “me” at a funeral, in traffic, or when I put my child to bed? People’s choices, tastes and preferences change rapidly in different situations. But many marketing experts still work with rather static models describing their customer segments. They make models of “typical” customers--called Personas--to help them make better marketing decisions. But if situations drive so much of our behaviour, isn’t it time to start thinking in Situationas instead?
Our inclination to think, act and decide more as a reaction to the context (and less as a consequence of our “persona”) started between 100,000 and 70,000 years ago. That’s when we as species learned to think and act extremely collaboratively. Neanderthals had bigger brains and more muscle than us, but they thought and acted much less socially. They were more focused on themselves. Their intelligence (and persona) was much more fixed. We--on the other hand--developed a magic trick that no others species on this planet shares with us; we can out-collaborate anybody. While other species may collaborate with subjects from their own “tribe” (ants with ants, wolves with wolves) , what makes us so special is that we collaborate also with unrelated, even foreign beings and objects as well. That’s why we can collaborate not only with people all over the planet, but also robots and programs. We are the only species on the planet that can coordinate our efforts to lift a heavy object, even if we don’t share the same origin or language. As “general” thinkers, we can understand a situation, figure out what is needed to improve it, and act together to achieve that commonly understood benefit.
We are the only species on the planet that can organise far-flung groups to collectively find a cure for cancer, get you a cup of coffee, built a smart phone or sit quietly in plane for many hours without attacking each other--try that with a group of chimpanzees. We love to collaborate! Nearly all modern products result from collaboration with foreign, unrelated entities “outside” of the company. We have social, collaborative business intelligence.
And nearly all our decisions and actions are triggered by something “outside” of us. You are alone in a room, then someone enters, you are most likely to change your actions. You might offer your seat to the elderly or take off your headphones if the boss enters. You behave differently because of something outside of you. This is what I call: the Situation.
The Situation defines our action much more than “who” we are. Situations define us. Situations define products. The same glass of water when you are extremely thirsty is a lot more valuable than it is after you’ve just quenched your thirst. The glass of water is the same; it’s the situation that has changed.
Situations drive behaviour. Situations drive preferences. Situations should also drive marketing.
The Marketing Of Situationas: A Practical Example
We are all hands-on, so let’s do a short thought-experiment about something most of us like: pizza. Pizza does not only exist in itself: it also exists in specific situations, or Situationas. Two extreme pizza Situationas could be:
1. Pizza is “un-important”: you do something else and just eat pizza to fight hunger;
2. Pizza is “important”: pizza is the center of attention.
Both Situationas can help marketing to define Situationa-adequate product features:
Situationa 1: The “user” is concentrating on something “more important” then eating. This means: minimise interaction. Solution: pre-cut pizza that he or she can eat without even looking.
Situationa 2: the pizza is the hero. This means: maximise interaction. Solution: you sell “hero toppings” separately, so the customer can have the glory of putting special toppings on the pizza him or herself.
Both cases are true for all kinds of “Personas”--from students to moms. Both cases help marketing to create relevant sales propositions.
Situationas are globally true. Situationa 1 is true and relevant if you are concentrating on a video game, writing a report for school or driving for hours from L.A. to Las Vegas. If you need to concentrate on something bigger than eating, interaction with food has to be minimised. You have bigger things to do than cut the pizza. The Situationa is universal. And the general insight “minimise interaction” will be true for a very long time.
The specific solution on how to “minimise interaction” however can change. Today we might pre-cut the pizza. Tomorrow we might have cookie-sized pizza, or pizza-on-a-stick. Solutions come and go. Situationas stay for good.
This allows specific creativity to drive your marketing, no matter how “general” the Situationas are. Different brands will offer different solutions for the same basic situation.
How do we find out about the different Situationas? The answer is very close to you, right now.
Situationas Can Be Measured, Monitored And Predicted
You, me, and your customer are all surrounded by digital devices. Those devices produce--and are able to share--contextual data; from your geolocation to your exercise level.
In short: digital devices can help to track, monitor and predict “Situationas”. This can be done automatically, in collaboration with a program. Tracking or monitoring “Personas” is much more complicated and quickly hits the limit of “too personal” information.
Without knowing anything about the actual person, very general, anonymous information can help marketing predict very individual, specific, real-time (or even before time) “Situationas”.
If you are normally in Europe and now in the US you are in the situation: abroad. If your geolocation indicate stores, beaches and museums you are most likely on holiday. If your geolocation indicates offices or conference halls you might be on a business trip. This gives rise to universal, yet highly specific needs, triggered by measurable situations.
The general Situationa “abroad” might indicate the need for transport. What if Uber awaits you just when you exit the airport? You get an offer when you are waiting for your luggage. That would be a specific marketing solution according to your Situationa.
The more specific Situation “holiday”, can predict an openness to attend shows and attractions during the day-time. It might even suggest taking the slower, more scenic route to the driver of your car.
The Situationa “business trip” increases the readiness to combat the loneliness of the later hours. Here the fastest way to reach a specific place is more likely to be important.
Situationas can be used to “customise” on-board media content in the car or the communication with individuals unrelated to you…like the driver.
The detection of Situationas has shaped individualised real-time marketing and services for a long time. That is why most drivers will ask you “are you on vacation” or “are you in a hurry”--and will adapt according to this Situationa (Few drivers will ask you “are you married with two kids in pre-school” and thus work with Personas).
Today contextual data can help you determine specific Situationas and play out fluid marketing content accordingly.
How Can You Start Using Situationas Today?
I’d suggest you work with Situationas in exactly the opposite way you do with personas. Personas get better the more specific the are. The more exclusive a persona, (Bob is like A and NOT like B) the more precise the model of the customer journey and thus the definition of the concrete marketing actions.
Situationas get better the broader the situations they describe. “Food is unimportant” is a very broad description. Still “Minimise interaction” is a very concrete marketing goal. “Cut the pizza” is ultra-specific.
So here is what you do:
- Define broad poles of situations your product or service is part of.
- Define the data or set of data you need to identify these poles.
- Define the general need or marketing activity for each of the poles.
- Build an algorithm to link the situation to the marketing activity.
- Monitor, measure and optimise.
Working with Personas is a very good start to help you understand your customers journey. Working with Situationas can help you create fluid services that adapt to the situation an individual customer find herself in--in real time and even before time. Situationas help you move from marketing-driven action, to customer-driven interaction.