Advertising is always one step ahead… until proven otherwise, in terms of trend analysis, that’s true. They are the first to benefit from knowing what’s happening and what’s going to happen… and why… and where… and to whom.
It’s normal, the ultimate goal of the sector can be summed up in one word: sales. And they do so by analyzing the market, consumers, what affects them; hyper-segmenting by type of user, geographic area, socio-economic status. What I wonder again and again is whether other sectors are doing the same. Or are they not under the same pressure to reach their users, to convince consumers?
When I explain trend analysis I always stress the importance of watching different groups and collectives (along with to knowing the potential user inside out) and one of them is, precisely, advertising. In addition to the creative concept of a campaign (to which I always “take my hat off”) we have to look at what it’s saying.
Last week I came across this Coca-Cola ad: Reading between the lines (and correct me if I’m wrong) it expresses, among other things, the sense of hyper-saturation most users feel as a result of the avalanche of gadgets, technology, apps, networks, etc.… This ad isn’t a coincidence. For a long time now, social researchers have been warning of the need to look into how users of all types are going to absorb, use and take on this avalanche… and whoever understands them is going to sell more.
Here’s a photo that, at first glance, may seem (and is) quite funny, but does a good job of expressing what one segment of the population, the elderly, are facing with this avalanche of technology:
When I took that photo, it reminded me of a time I was in Finland a couple of years ago, working for a client on a European project that, logically, involved many Finnish partners. In addition to the project we were working on (related to smart homes and interoperability), my Finnish colleagues (which, truth be told, were already working in multidisciplinary teams that included not only engineers but also social researchers, designers, etc.) told me about a project that fascinated me from the beginning: Caring TV.
It fascinated me for its simplicity, for how it captured the needs of a specific group and offered an appropriate solution (and you don’t do that by “observing” just one user but, surprise, surprise, it requires much broader, less well-known research that sometimes social researchers try to simplify in order to be understood, but isn’t anywhere near as simple as it seems).
Well, “Caring TV” was a project that allowed the elderly, who often have mobility problems, to connect, speak and even receive input from social services and doctors. And the best part was that they didn’t do it on a cell phone or any other unfamiliar gadget, but with something they “had always had to fight with” and was part of their life: television. I thought it was a fantastic idea for the ageing population, with mobility problems and, more importantly, that addresses a specific segment of the population in a specific geographic context with very specific needs.
Those who want to look further will realize that technological advancement has much more to do with demographic, geographic, population and group variables than with super evolved software/hardware and how technology is transferred to the market and to users; much more with solving real problems and providing solutions to the real needs of social groups: it’s the user, it always has been. I mean… aren’t the elderly a target audience as well? And what about other user groups?
And to round off the festival, the arrival of wearables and IoT (Internet of Things), in addition to technological challenges, only increases the need for knowledge of users and hyper-segmentation. And even more so taking into account economic and social contextual variables and, of course, trends that directly impact users.
We have to understand the user, know how to analyze and interpret trends, the environment, stakeholders involved in a service. It is a question of analyzing and designing from a holistic, multidisciplinary, complex (but not complicated) point of view; tackling problems in a broader sense. No sector will be able to escape it, not even technology, and valid information will be that which can be interpreted and linked. To finish up this post, I’ll leave you with a highly recommended reading I found on the Harvard business review: An anthropologist walks into a bar.
And you? Do you analyze your users? How?