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07-2022

Data doesn’t determine trends, humans do

Data doesn't determine trends, humans do
Source: Shutterstock

It took seven flights of stairs to reach the cramped studio apartment on the outskirts of Rome. Lara, the woman I met at the door, was 28 years old and was suffering from asthma for life. The fact that there was no elevator in the building didn’t make his life any easier, and he told me, wearing a mask, felt like being stuck in a mine.

I was interviewing him on behalf of Chessie, one of the largest respiratory disease pharmaceutical players in the world. Family-owned, Chiesi wanted to understand the effects of the pandemic not from a scientific or medical point of view, but in terms of how it affects people’s daily lives. Like most of my clients, Chessie understood that traditional research fell short in uncovering the subtle, long-term consequences of COVID. To understand them, you needed the last thing a pandemic was going through: human contact.

One thing that sets me apart from most brand and transformation strategists is that I am a reality junkie. I’m less enamored with Excel spreadsheet data than the numbers I don’t reveal. The middle truth, about which consumers are not even aware. This means that if you really want to understand brands, you must talk to, travel with, and in some cases stick with consumers.

Big data provides us with numbers and percentages. It will not tell us that we are emerging from a near-death experience.

To be honest, my approach does come with some risks. When I was researching supermarkets in Venezuela, I barely survived an airport hijacking attempt. While working to restore Nestle’s market share in the Philippines, I survived a six-foot tidal wave at a tin shed in Manila, where I was doing an interview.

But all that hard work and journey has paid off. I’m proud of the role I’ve played in helping to revitalize brands around the world, while watching over 3,000 consumers visit home in nearly 100 countries. I tell people that if you want to understand the behavior of giraffes, zebras and meerkats, don’t go to the zoo, you go to the forest.

impact of covid

When Covid appeared in early 2020, my schedule slowed down but didn’t stop, so I was in Rome. When I asked Lara how asthma had affected her life, she became emotional. In high school, she was teased, made fun of, kept out of parties, and pulled out of sports. I commented on how confident and pulled together she looked. What was his secret? Lara reached inside her purse and took out a drinking straw. “This,” she said, explaining that whenever she met a new colleague or potential friend, she asked if they would do her a favor. Put the straw in their mouth, hold their nose, and breathe through the straw for 60 seconds. “That way, you can experience things like I do,” she said.

The next day, I called on Chessie’s board, told the directors to put a straw in their mouth and spend the next minute breathing in and out (or trying to). Halfway through, a senior executive spit out his straw. Who can live like this? he demanded. Each of your customers had the answer.

More than a fleeting ‘aha’ moment for Chiesi Management, it was as if every department, from human resources to R&D to marketing, was flooded with emotion. For the first time ever, management began to understand the emotional impact of COVID, which in turn created new strategies to innovate and market its products to customers.

The data itself is static, empty, monotonous, meaningless. If you’re looking for meaning, my advice is to ask a human or hundreds of them. This became apparent in spring and summer 2020, when I began to pick up on a disturbing trend.

My advice to Ritson is to pick up a plastic drinking straw and inhale some lung-filled evidence of a world made up of real humans, not a graph.

Any marketer over a certain age is familiar with Procter & Gamble’s ‘seven entry points’ philosophy. Your first apartment, your marriage and the birth of a child are some of the key turning points when we are susceptible to change our preferences, up to and including our purchase and brand choice.

At the time, I was working for a major bank in mainland China and Hong Kong. As I conducted hundreds of interviews, it became clear to me that COVID was not a short-term crisis. The emotional impact of the pandemic was so severe that if it disappeared overnight, it would leave behind a felt trail for generations to come, in the same way that the Great Depression and World War II prompted our grandparents to withdraw money Clean, reuse their plates and wrinkled wrapping paper. It was clear to me that COVID was (and is) an eighth entry point, a globally synchronized behavioral change that would open the door to new trends, needs, buying patterns… and brand opportunities.

Lasting impact

Two years later, my initial diagnosis has been tragically proven correct. Despite today’s relative surface calm, as countries move away from mask mandates and try to create some semblance of normal-life post-Covid, the psychological impact on consumers today and tomorrow will be as profound as I suspected.

Consider touch. Its absence, ie. Touch was the biggest disadvantage of social distancing (touch, it is worth noting, is also correlated with human life expectancy). What happens if there is a touch and a touch is being made? Well, worldwide depression cases have increased by 25% and people buying dogs have increased from 48% to 54% (a hungry dog ​​can gnaw on your corpse, but it won’t give you covid).

Nearly three years of isolation mixed with the world preoccupation with Lady Macbeth-like sanitisers has weakened our collective immune system. Along with avoiding other people and seeing the people we love as potential carriers and killers, as well as a widespread reluctance to visit hospitals diagnosed with any other life-threatening illnesses Never mind the fact that there are no beds available except the ones reserved for critically ill COVID patients.

Working from home is another. Pre-Covid, the desk as a standalone item of furniture was almost obsolete, replaced by laptops, tablets, phones, sofas and beds. One man I know has eight desks in his storage locker. Nobody wants them. Today, thanks to Zoom, the desk for bringing your laptop or tablet to eye level — or a coffee table or washing machine stuffed with thick books — has made a comeback. So the egg-shaped glamorma is light. This has in many cases led to top-to-bottom remodeling of living spaces, disrupting the traditional design blueprints originally created in the 1960s. Working from home has also led to an increase in divorce, more confusion between personal and work life, and relocation from dense, germy cities to less decorated, wind-shrouded country or seaside homes.

In case you’re still not convinced we’re living through the eighth entry point, there’s also ‘The Great Regeneration’ where, in the past six months, more than four million Americans have quit their jobs, and the UK resigns. were at their highest level. On the record.

Let me ask you this: is it logical (clear-sighted, practical, adult, responsible) to turn away from a stable, predictable job or career. As global stock markets continue to be watched, no one knows what the future holds. Will it look like Isn’t a drunk college student shunning job security with an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex? The question remains, why?

Big data provides us with numbers and percentages. It would not tell us that we are emerging from a near-death experience, if not our own death, the death of friends, relatives and strangers, bundled up as daily affairs and counting. Yes, we knew abstractly that we weren’t going to live forever, but now we really know it. We have seen that time is chunky and formless, like a page in a big dumb cloud or tablet, whose lines dissolve. The Internet, on which many have become over-dependent during COVID, is a mortality tool in itself, giving us memories of them as well as the birth and unheard deaths of millions of headlines, stories, controversies and ideas. reminds me of.

Planning things, anticipating things? Both went. The sexiest shampoos and moisturizers, distilled from the ferocious giggles of pufferfish, face masks made with powdered fire ants. What’s the use of that stuff when facemasks make everyone shopping at the supermarket look like a bandaged anteater?

I have to say that there will be a profound change in consumer habits and consumption after COVID and beyond. Brands, their roles, and what they need to bring to the table now must respond to that change. As everyone knows, successful branding isn’t about words, or meaning, or cute animals, it’s how a pillow, ketchup or soft drink makes us feel. And with an apology for big data, feelings are not facts.

After all, big data predicted that Hillary Clinton would be elected president in 2016, while small data my team and I picked up repeatedly in the months before the election indicated the exact opposite. After our small data research revealed in-depth and detailed insights about B2B customers in the wake of COVID, Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company (and a highly data-driven enterprise) changed direction and eventually shared its The price saw an increase of over 300%. ,

Still, here’s one data point that’s undeniable: I’m a college dropout. Instead of following my classmates at university, I was hired after high school by Lego, whose R&D department I had been mentoring since I was 12. Years later, Lego admitted that it didn’t hire me because I was smart or blonde or smiley—that hurt. No, they wanted to connect with their core customers and as a 12 year old Danish kid, I fit the bill perfectly.

Which is why when Mark Ritson accused me of Covid and the devastation that followed, I found myself back in high school, and a world of disgusting teachers surrounded by piles of graphs and data. I was reminded why, at age 19, I decided that living in the real world would be more engaging and instructive than trendspotting from behind a lecture. My advice to Ritson is to pick up a plastic drinking straw and inhale some lung-filled evidence of a world made up of real humans, not a graph.

After all, isn’t our biggest challenge when building brand loyalty, breaking down, breaking out, and bringing words to love ourselves? You can search for “love” in a thesaurus, map it out on a spreadsheet, study its definitions in a textbook—or you can venture out into the world and find your answer. If nothing else, along the way you’ll be given a series of insights into what the men and women who pay our salaries really think and feel.

Martin Lindstrom is an expert on brand, culture and change. He writes for the Wall Street Journal and The Economist and was named by Time Magazine as one of the ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’. His books, including Biology, Small Data, Brand Sense, The Ministry of Common Sense, have been translated into 60 languages.

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