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Customers. Clients. Users. What happened to People?


Customers. Clients. Users. Target Market. Profiles.

What happened to people? What happened to seeing people like people, instead of a character profile? When did we stop understanding each other and started thinking we understand each other? What happened to the human experience?

The answer isn't a wall full of User Profiles that pretend to know someone. People aren't just a series of profiles and data points outlining who we think they are, what we think they think, what we think their goals and motivations are. The 43 year old Mid-Western Single Mother named Sally with 2.3 kids, a dog named Ruffles with the desire to buy more chicken noodle soup and is frustrated with technology and attends a weekly book club doesn't exist.

Real people are infinitely more complex than that. This is what the data tells us though. Or does it?

Wait, but data is king isn't it? That sweet sweet data that drives us to create user profiles, tells us what is happening, what to do and where to put our energy. The data that makes you a God over your competition. The thing that makes your thing better. But what if it doesn't? What if our reliance on data is killing our fundamental understanding of how to connect and understand people?

The creative human element that brings people together, creates lasting beautiful experiences and makes life worth living, seems to be lost in data. Data is good at giving us the what of something, but by it's very nature is incapable of giving us the who. Who someone really is. It can only give fragments of someone's anything. Too often these scattered puzzle pieces are glued together and called a masterpiece. A representation of a generalized, largely undefined, seemingly definitive person that we make all our decisions around.

Maybe Mid-Western Sally attends her weekly book club, but only does it to feel socially acceptable and really hates it. Maybe she dreams of becoming a Marine Biologist. Maybe her kids are being bullied at school. Maybe her 2.3 kids are really 3 kids!

Maybe our reliance and trust on data is that it provides a clear result. Something tangible that we can use. Something we can show stakeholders, clients, investors and prove the result of something. Something without imagination or vision. Something black and white.

If you've ever been born though, you know that human experiences aren't black and white at all. They are deeply gray and wonderfully unpredictable. These experiences are no different with a brand. Brands put precious time and resources into collecting data on their clients, customers and users. They use this data to formulate campaigns, branding initiatives, and make decisions that affect every level of a company. Do we even know who those "Customers", "Clients" and "Users" really are and does it make our decisions better?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But isn't that the point? It doesn't always produce something meaningful or positively impactful. Sometimes data falls flat on it's face. If numbers, algorithms and data points were exact and true though, then the human touch would be packing it's bag. But they aren't. Data can't tell us how to treat people. It can't even tell us how someone is feeling. That's why having a human approach is still very much valuable. Creative ideas and decisions still come from human inspiration.

This all comes from empathy. The fundamental understanding that connects us all. It's our greatest tool for crafting brand experiences. Something data will never show you. It's much more valuable to understand and share the feelings of Mid-Western Sally, Blue Collar Bob and Engineer Travis, rather than try to tell them who they are and predict what they will do. Talk to them. Get to know them on a human level. Care. Only then will you truly connect people to the brands that touch their everyday lives.

Can your brand thrive on this human approach? The answer is yes. As history shows, innovation, creative ideas, pure inspiration and joy can happen with this core human perspective, without data. Zero. Data. Just good old fashion intuition, vision and a drive to make the world a better place.

Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Richard Branson are a few of many brilliant visionaries that achieved success, all without data. They didn't need Mid-Western Sally. They knew what to do, how to do it and who it would impact. They did this with gut instinct, vision and a desire to create something meaningful. Something that would touch people on an emotional human level. That level is what connects people to brands.

They treated their customers, clients and users like people. They created products, brands and services that they knew people would love and that inspired and served them. They didn't need user profiles, focus groups, usability testing, heatmapping or “methodologies” to get there. The biggest innovations came from pure magic and stripping down something to it's core, building on it and delivering that.

Henry Ford revolutionized the world with his automobiles and assembly line. He never wondered what Mid-Western Sally eats for breakfast. He didn't care. In his famous quote he said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He created a brand experience that came from fundamental understanding of what people wanted and needed and what would drive the world forward. Pun intended!

Steve Jobs said something similar to that effect: “It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

This approach to brand and product is slowing becoming an antiquated point of view. Our reliance on big data is replacing this need for the creative process and fundamental human understanding. The pure intuition that breeds better brand and human experiences. Where did the surprise and delight approach go?

So data is bad right? Of course not. Data can provide insight that can be invaluable. It’s about removing our tight grip and reliance on it though can make room for creative thinking and the opportunity for raw inspiration. It also opens up the gate for more human oriented experiences that people will deeply identify with. Experiences that touch our human core and are genuine and meaningful, without seeming selly or inauthentic. Not a manufactured response, based on a generalized observation about a person.

Your Customers are People. Your Clients are People. Your Users are People. Your Target Market are People. Design your brand for the human experience and you'll soon learn that we're all just looking to connect.

Matt Levesque