After centuries of commerce being product-focused, and decades of it being service-focused, the worlds of business and marketing are at last becoming people-focused. Phrases such as “Humanising business” and “HX” (Human Experience) are the new normal.
This post highlights why the shift from products and services to people is happening and what it means for brands and insights.
The age of the product
From the industrial revolution onwards, the driving force of most economies was consumer consumption of products. Products were mass produced, people earned wages, markets were formed and people bought the products. This circle of production, wages and consumption fuelled the massive economic expansion of the developed markets in the 19th and 20th Centuries. This phase of the market was all about production, people were simply units of labour and units of consumption.
As markets matured, people needed to be persuaded to buy more products, and marketing began to be of increased importance. The insights that were needed during this product-focused phase were straightforward. Market research answered questions such as; What did people think of this new product? Did the ad help sell the product? How was the market seen by customers and potential customers?
As markets matured further, few products could sustain actual product advantages and their marketing had to increasingly focus on brand values, which in turn drove emotion-led marketing and customer-centricity.
The age of services
Whilst services, such as banking, postal services and public transport, have been around for centuries, it has only been over the last 30 years that they have developed brands (in the modern sense) and have adopted modern marketing techniques. Services moved from a focus on the service to a focus on the customer/user/subscriber. Metrics such as customer satisfaction, churn and NPS were all seen as key to selling more services to customers. CRM systems, CX and UX were all an essential part of delivering services and experiences that customers would buy/consume.
The end of the line for Customer-Centricity, CX and UX
The problem with product-focused and service-focused marketing, customer-centricity, CX and UX is that they are delivering diminishing returns. Products and services have achieved parity in terms of features and cost, the global trends are heading towards self-actualisation and de-cluttering, and tools like path to purchase are based on a flawed assumption that products and services are destinations that people travel to.
It is becoming less and less acceptable for brands to think of people as ‘customers’ (people who only exist when they are customers), ‘viewers’ (people who only exist when they are viewing), and ‘users’ (people who only exist when they are using something). Customer-centricity, CX and UX look at people from the brand’s point of view. It’s as if people spontaneously appear as and when they interact with the brand, then disappear afterwards.
Treating people as people
The alternative to being brand-centric is to be people-centric, utilising HX approaches. The key to adopting a people-focused approach is to understand people, understand their lives, and then work out where your brand can add something to make enhance people’s lives. In this scenario, enhance might be making life easier, it might be pleasure, it might mean richer – there are many forms of ‘better’.
As long ago as 2009, Stan Sthanunathan (Executive Vice President - Consumer & Market Insights at Unilever) said “We’re too focused on understanding consumption behaviour and shopping behaviour. We need to understand the human condition, which you’ll only know by observing, listening, synthesising and deducing.” Stan was not saying that we should stop looking at consumption and shopping data. He was making the point that these activities are not enough. We need to treat people as people and understand the human condition.
This new (people-centric) model is as revolutionary as the insight from Copernicus that the Sun did not go around the Earth. Customers do not rotate around brands; brands rotate around people.
HX needs research and insights
As Stan Sthanunathan said above, to understand the human condition, we need to observe and listen to people, synthesise the information, and deduce what brands can do to deliver what people want, when they need it. In the days of being product and design-led, the key players were the people designing and imagining the products and services. Marketers had the job of persuading consumers/users to buy/subscribe to them.
A people-centric approach means that the starting point is understanding people’s lives, finding out where the gaps or needs are. Once gaps and needs are identified, the designers and marketers can determine how to meet those needs.
A Call to Action
Organisations and brands need HX, and HX needs research. However, HX needs a new type of research, one that is people-focused and human in its intent and reasoning. Actions that are helping to develop this people-focused research include:
• Ethnography and semiotics
• Social media listening
• Integrated data solutions, combining behaviour and attitudes
• Prescriptive analytics that seek to understand people so that opportunities can be forecast, explained and optimised.
You may have noticed some recent changes at Potentiate, including me joining as their Chief Research Officer, the acquisition of Vision Critical’s full-service online communities’ businesses in Australia and EMEA, and a joint venture with Veriluma (a prescriptive analytics company). These changes are happening because we have a vision for the insights business of the 2020s that has a human face and is people-centric.
In short, HX.
As people, we feel people are our future. We are blending qualitative research with CRM data, voice of the customer data, online communities and prescriptive analytics, to find new ways for our clients to enhance people’s lives.
For more on the HX, contact us today firstname.lastname@example.org