It’s Not About You

I just finished a book by an award-winning financial journalist and anthropology Ph.D., Gillian Tett, called Anthro-Vision. In the book, Tett presents a radical strategy for success, understanding behavior by studying consumers, markets, and organizations through an anthropological lens.

Anthropology is studying human nature, getting into other people’s minds to understand different cultures, and appraising our environment with a fresh perspective as an insider-outsider, gaining lateral vision.  According to Tett, the lack of objective lateral vision explains why corporate projects fail, why bank traders miscalculate losses, or why some pandemic policies failed. Anthropology is a discipline that allows one to make the familiar seem unfamiliar and vice versa, providing us with a three-dimensional perspective in a world where many business executives are afflicted by tunnel vision.

The maxim that you should walk a mile in another man’s (or woman’s) moccasins to understand them speaks to lateral vision void of personal biases and prejudices. However, most of us in business approach marketing from our perspective and our needs. Over the years, I developed a planning tool called Market Focused Planning to avoid navel-gazing when mapping out business opportunities and business strategies. After finishing Tett’s book, I realize that to be really effective at developing a genuinely market-focused strategy; you need to look at your market from an outsider’s point of view and make sense of it or make the familiar seem unfamiliar. There are reasons behind all behavior or customs, no matter how strange. Understanding those reasons provides valuable insight into buying practices, perceptions of value, and decision making.

Typically an entrepreneur will pitch a business opportunity to a financier or banker that the market size is X units and the market share is Y percentage, therefore, generating revenue of Z. What generally is omitted, even after a discussion of feature and benefits and target market, is answers to such niggling questions as:

What kinds of customers will benefit most from our product or service?

How do competitive points of differentiation influence customers’ buying decisions?

How can you create customer choice?

How does a customer compare competitive choices?

Why would a buyer choose our product or service?

To gain market share, which competing products or services are rejected?

Why should a customer do this?

Answering these questions does not fit a nice neat financial equation. Consequently, entrepreneurs don’t take the time to research how customers might behave when confronted with their product or service. Also, the person doing the research might not like the answers. No one wants to have their bubble popped. Granted, behavior is hard to quantify, but failure to do your homework is the likely reason many businesses don’t succeed.

The next time you put together a business plan, investor pitch, or strategic plan, do extensive data analysis that must be done with context that makes sense because you understand how and why your target audience behaves the way they do.

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