Understanding the whole consumer

Life Photo Mark Kauffman Photographer 1955 Seattle Here are words to warm the hearts of the anthropologically minded.  

The're from The Game-Changer: how you can drive revenue and profit growth with innovation, by Lafley and Charan.  

P&G needed to look at consumer more broadly.  It tended to narrow in on only one aspect of the consumer–for example, their mouth for oral-care products, their hair for shampoo, their loads of dirty clothes and their washing machines for laundry detergents.  

P&G had essentially extracted the consumer out of her own life (and, at times, a particular body part as well!) and myopically focused on what was most important to the company–the product or the technology.  P&G has since learned to understand and appreciate her and her life–how busy she is; her job responsibilities; the role she plays for her children, husband, and other family members; and her personal and family aspirations and dreams.  

This broader view promises an advantage.

[It} has enabled the identifications of innovation opportunity that truly provide meaningful solutions to her household and personal-care needs and wants that otherwise wouldn't have been discovered through more-traditional, more-narrow, and often more-superficial methods.  (p. 36)

I think some people in marketing continue to work with a narrow view.  And I am sure it feels to them like an act of discipline.  "Look how closely we scrutinize the consumer.  Look how microscopic is our view!"  But of course, as Lafley and Charan point out, this eliminates from view the very things that make the life make sense and opportunities come to view. 

A complementary view can be found in Blue Ocean Strategy by Chan and Mauborgne.  The argument here is not that we dolly back for the bigger picture, but that we scrutinze the assumptions that shape how we see the consumer and the marketplace.  (And there is a real resonance here with Theodore Levitt's famous question, "what business are you in."  Levitt liked to point out that Detroit researcher were a little like lawyers.  They never asked a question to which they did not know the answer.)

Both the game-changer argument and the blue-oceans one represent what I think of, too parochially, I know, as anthropological reflexes.  The first, from Lafley and Charan, says, "put this consumer and this problem in its broader context," and for an anthropologist, of course, this means the cultural context.  The second, from Chan and Mauborgne, says, pay attention to the assumptions, the cultural logic, the shapes your understanding of the problem. Escape these and "blue oceans" (aka uncontested markets) open up to you.  

But this is parochial of me.  Here I am stuffing marketing models into anthropological ones, the very thing Lafley, Charan, Chan and Mauborgne criticize.  What business am I in?  


Kim, W. Chan and Renee Mauborgne.  2005.  Blue Oceans Strategy.  Boston: Harvard Business School Press.  

Lafley, A.G. and Ram Charan. 2008.  The Game-changer.  New York: Crown.

Levitt, Theodore.  1986.  The Marketing Imagination.  In The Marketing Imagination.  New York: The Free Press.  


Thanks to Life and Google for access to this photo.  It's by Mark Kauffman.  It was taken in Seattle in 1955.  It's called "Young houswife taking time for a cup of coffee while her sons play around her."  here

7 thoughts on “Understanding the whole consumer

  1. Rodney

    Good post Grant.
    Some planners (me included) work around three basic questions when thinking about how brands fit (or could fit better) into peoples lives.

    * How do they see themselves, their lives and popular culture? (“the way things are these days” – John Grant)

    * What part does the category play is this?

    * What part could the brand play in this (stand out/challenge conventions)?

  2. jkh

    how do we create meaning?
    heidegger suggests that we create meaning by taking the chaos of the world and move and shift and rearrange all individual pieces until they stand in a relation to each other that allows us to identify a storyline and to communicate it.
    in a funny way – for our story or for the products or services we offer – the chaos surrounding it is just important as the solution itself.
    a story that does not emerge from chaos, contrasts and contradictions is of no interest. it is neither news nor poetry. it does virtually not exist.
    a product or service that is not born from chaos, contrast and contradictions has no significance. it is – or it has become – sad commodity.

    so in this way lafley, levitt and chan/mauborgne are all on the same page. – … zoom out… ‘dolly back for the bigger picture’ or ‘scrutinize the assumptions that shape how we see the consumer and the marketplace’ is all the same thing.
    if it can invite contrasts and contradictions in, then – and only then – something of relevance can come from it.

  3. PS

    I’m completely unboard with gaining a full understanding of what the customer really needs (especially versus the stuff customers tell us they need). I must declare a strong difference of opinion on the Blue Ocean phenomenon. It’s difficult to call it insight when every example gets reconfigured into the “blue ocean” terminology and it all seems to be post hoc – history rewritten.

  4. Lucie

    I don’t speak very well English so sorry for my future mistakes. But I want to say that your site is very interesting. I am student in Anthropology and I find here full of information. Thanks.

  5. Candy Minx

    Hi Grant! I’m catching up and just wanted to say a quick hi and happy new years to you! It was great to meet you this summer…a highlight in the past year.

    Looking forward to following your thoughts in the new year,

  6. Ben

    Very much enjoyed this Grant; pithy and timely. Looks like a must read book too by Lafley & Charan. Cheers. & HNY. B

  7. Ben

    Very much enjoyed this Grant; pithy and timely. Looks like a must read book too by Lafley & Charan. Cheers. & HNY. B

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