Picture: 123RF/Vladislav Gajic
Picture: 123RF/Vladislav Gajic

Anthropology has become a way marketers can add another layer to big data in their understanding of consumers, a means to seek out the narrative behind their behaviour – the “thick” data, as opposed to big data.

Demographica’s Claire Denham-Dyson, speaking at an insight session held recently in Johannesburg, explained that while consumers may not always know why they behave the way they do, anthropology seeks to makes sense of the reasons. Anthropology has long been a crucial part of the way Demographica approaches clients and briefs.

Market research, says Denham-Dyson, is a vast field and one that is highly quantitative. Anthropology produces knowledge about people, providing a deeper understanding of human behaviour that yields invaluable insights.

Anthropology is about emotional connections; a science that has more value in terms of getting to grips with customers and their behaviours than brand awareness and customer satisfaction put together. “Emotional connections have proved to be 32% more valuable than any other measure, as well as being nonlinear, variable and journey-based,” she says.

“Central to the reason these emotional connections are so important is that they lead marketers to know what excites people. It’s not about a product, but rather about getting inside the world of the consumer and becoming a part of it,” Denham-Dyson says.

Getting to the core of human insights is a messy process, she says. Insights sit in the subconscious space of our minds and they’re not always rational, nor do they always make sense. So sometimes getting to the most valuable human understandings involves a process of breaking down insights that have previously been held to be true, and re-looking at the thinking and behaviour, the facts and observations that comprise what Denham-Dyson terms the “thick data” and that ultimately lead to the answer to why people behave the way they do.

Key to her theory – and to getting to the crux of what creates a strong emotional connection between consumers and brands – is the capacity to listen to consumers. “It’s about immersion in their world and allowing oneself to be vulnerable (which can at times be uncomfortable), to ask open-ended questions and to know one’s own biases and how these can affect observations,” she says.

It’s an approach that shows where and how people want to be engaged with, and one of these areas is with respect to pain points, Denham-Dyson says. “By connecting with consumers’ pain point, one is able to engage with them and create the energy that is required to effect a change in behaviour,” she explains. “All too often in marketing we lose that emotional connection, that motivator, which is problematic, because consumers connect at an emotional level. It’s vital to understand the processes people go through when they make their decisions,” she says.

The big take out

Whether a business plays in the B2B or B2C space, human insight and emotional connections are what will ensure it stands out in a crowd.

Speaking at the same event, Kristoff Copmans, senior principal transformation architect at Oracle, pointed out that the gap between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer is growing narrower all the time, which makes sense, given that in each case one has to do with humans.

In the B2B space, it can be challenging to differentiate a business from its competitors and to create a sustainable business model that sets the organisation apart.

Copmans argues that organisations in the B2B space need to understand audiences and customers better than their competitors. “Today’s chief marketing officer (CMO) is coming under intense pressure and scrutiny in terms of measurement. It would be more accurate to say that the current CMOs handle the role of chief growth officer, responsible for digitising the business as well as introducing technology and analytics to affect sales and growth,” he says.

The challenge facing CMOs is how to grow a business when all the power lies with the consumer, he adds. He believes the key is to think about clients as people and not simply entities in an organisation. This goes beyond what they do on a day-to-day basis; it’s about their preferences and what they are involved with outside of work, he says, adding that this allows for a tailor-made approach to marketing strategies.

Copmans proposes finding one hidden insight that will make the conversation different from the conversations competitors are having. Before a business invests in content curation, he suggests taking a back-to-basics approach towards understanding the audience, assigning “personas” to buyers that are supported by data, and creating a persona-based campaign that ensures a consistent experience across channels.