The Power Of Just Getting Out There


Perhaps someone can help me here, but I’ve never quite understood why we message people when it’s quicker and more efficient to call. Messaging is about as cranky as a typewriter, yet it’s been calculated that in 2013, we sent more than 300 billion text and instant messages. I realise there a real difference between a call and an instant message in terms of need and content, but their massive usage illustrates a perverse form of remoteness. We’re communicating more than ever with those around us, but in a detached way – on our own terms.

Thanks to Facebook, I know more about my relatives in Canada, Australia and Poland than ever before. I know what their kids look like, I’ve seen baby’s first stool (literally) what they had for breakfast and where they went on holiday, but mixed in with these intimate moments are ads for dropping belly flab and invitations to participate in trials for cardiovascular drugs. When I’m trying to get close, I’m being interrupted by unwanted ads and reminded what a poor replacement Facebook is for real contact. I can’t be myself because others are watching. Not everyone on Facebook is really my friend (see Adam Grant’s brilliant article ‘You’re Not My Friend’ Again, I’m close but still remote. Communicating on my own terms, but keeping stuff back.

This is the problem for advertisers. They have so much data about us that they’re suffering from infobesity, but they still can’t get close to us because we won’t let them. It’s as though they can see a very good, clear jigsaw of us, but some of the key parts are missing.

This lack of real connection with consumers is exacerbated by what the life of a marketer is like nowadays. The modern office has been transformed in 25 years. In spite of all the fancy named breakout rooms and coffee zones, ‘Marketing’ is enveloped in a world of limitless data and supplicant suppliers. Procurement vets and edits out anyone bonkers, so marketers hardly have to move from their desks anymore. When they go out, it’s to a conference where they’re flesh-pressed by every halitosis ridden professional networker, but it doesn’t help them get close to people who do, or might buy their products.

My first job was as a designer at Sainsbury’s. My weekend fun was going to the store in Aylesbury and watching people buy my packs. Sad, I know, but it was an education that’s never left me. What had I done that made them buy my designs? With this in mind, a few years ago, I ran a workshop with a global foods business to try to get them to understand what consumers saw. We gave them $25 each and sent them to three supermarkets to buy products in categories they didn’t operate in. It turned out that they never went to the supermarket during work time – it’s as off limits as sitting at your desk just thinking.

These marketers bought much of their food from the staff shop and were astonished at how similar the products they bought in the supermarket were. They stopped customers and asked why they chose one product over another and came back genuinely exhilarated. It’s odd really isn’t it? One of the world’s great joys is people-watching, but it’s not seen as part of someone in marketing’s education or role.


Similarly, a home visit, a rifle through someone’s freezer, cupboards and bathroom cabinets or an ethnographic exercise filming people shopping, buying and using products will tell you more than you could ever imagine from a Powerpoint deck of data.

You just can’t beat hands on, face-to-face, watching, chatting and listening. The sort of thing we do in our spare time really.