The Big Gap Between Who Customers Say They Are And Who They Actually Are

02/09/2015 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Rui Vieira/PA Wire
File photo dated 06/12/12 a person using a smartphone. Reports of the death of Facebook have been "greatly exaggerated", the boss of a major market researcher into digital customers has said.

The difference between who users claim they are and who they actually are is the bane of every researcher and marketer's existence. I like to call it 'the Big Delta'.

Attempting to isolate the muddying influences of 'who-I-want-to-be-seen-as' from 'who-I-am' and respondents' general eagerness to please with socially acceptable responses is the hardest challenge for anyone who hopes to do or inform insight-driven marketing.

Add to that the fact that an overwhelming number of consumer products that need insights to invest in big marketing now are technology products. Most often, apps for mobile.

The mobile medium is confounding to traditional researchers for a variety of reasons, most important of which, is the fact that the device is, by definition, private. Which means that, barring exceptional circumstances, nobody other than me, is likely to handle my mobile phone.

Which means, my behaviour on this device, logged through my selfies, my search history, the apps in my obscurely named 'extras' folder and many other actions, are MOST representative of who I really am. The muddying influence of 'who-I- want-to-be-seen-as' is virtually absent on this device, precisely because it is not intended for the eyes of anyone but myself. There's No Delta here, if you will.

Traditional marketing attributes a LOT of consumption to being done for reasons of social acceptability. As the price of admission into a club. But while this may be true for the brand of clothing you buy, the consumption of a technology product, however, has absolutely NO bearing on your public image. That's how private it is. I could have entire gigabytes of racy content on my phone, and you'd be none the wiser.

I handle marketing for a dating app and this is, naturally, especially interesting to me. Dating is a space where there is incredible social pressure to act cool, while on the inside, you're hopeful and vulnerable and afraid, all at once. There's a Big Delta, if I ever saw one.

Which is why the mobile phone lends itself perfectly to the quest of connecting with strangers, all similarly hopeful, clicking with some, bored by others, and basically sifting till you find that one connection that really sparks. It's very freeing to do all this on a personal, handheld device. In fact, (sometimes) one wonders how we went about all this awkwardness in any other way.

It's very similar with the Amazon Kindle. As this article in The Guardian explains, while users happily spend on cerebral, high-brow paper books to adorn bookshelves, the eBook libraries of those same users are comprised of frothy romances and true crime novels, all enjoyed behind the anonymity of the Kindle's grey back cover, especially designed for guilty pleasures.

This presents both, an incredible opportunity, as well as a whole new challenge for anyone interested in getting insight into why people do what they do on their mobile devices.

On the one hand, here is this gold mine of data, which when aggregated at scale and cross-referenced, can throw up incredibly detailed portraits of consumers and what really drives them.

On the other hand, or perhaps for that very reason, getting to this data is potentially this decade's most contentious debate.

However we choose to skin this, the next move in consumer understanding will come from someone who finds a legitimate way of marrying publicly available big data (to log what users have actually read/purchased/spent time on) with smarter in-person research methods (to understand why).

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