The Discipline Of Perception: Smart Marketing Strives To See Things As “They” See Them

An old blue truck without power steering from The discipline of perception. Smart marketing strives to see things as "they" see them. Photo by Ben Cliff on Unsplash

Conversation with a small gathering of friends over the long weekend has cascaded into a reflection on the discipline of perception in marketing, which means taking seriously the challenge of seeing the world (and your products/services) as your customers and potential customers do.

And it all started wtih Lisa talking about how much she loves her old V8 truck.

An observation so big you could drive a truck through it

As Lisa explained it, driving her truck is an active experience. You can’t just settle back and take it easy.

She pointed out how the steering wheel is heavy to operate and demands attention and energy from the driver.

It was at this point that another guest, Emma, chipped in with her regret at the introduction of power steering because she noticed it cost her some tone in her arm muscles.

And there it was.

I love power steering. I celebrated it for making driving more comfortable and, more than likely, safer.

If I were asked to promote it, comfort and safety would be the benefits I would focus on, drawn from my intuitions. But I'd never stopped to think about the experience of power steering from the perspective other users.

Despite this all being a hypothetical, it does teach us a big lesson: we are not our customers.

Taking time to talk to or interview your customers, or at least do some deep reflection on their journey with your products or services, is a part of the marketing process that is too vital to skip.

At best you might just be missing some "killer" angles, at worst, you could be promoting the wrong ones; ones that dissuade customers.

Look, in the sky, is it a bird ... yep, but it's also another insight

The next morning, walking around Thorndon Park reserve, I saw a hawk glide onto a branch nestled midway down a very large tree.

I thought to myself, how different the world must look to that bird and all birds.

They would see it from the top down, and they’d have a different understanding of the topography of place, with a more acute focus on branches and roosting points.

As an aside, American philosopher, Thomas Nagel, would be quick to point out that while my attempt at thinking about the world from a hawk's perspective is admirable, it is complete conjecture because humans cannot know what it is to be like another creature. I am referring to his fascinating paper, What Is It Like To Be A Bat?

Our own experience provides the basic material for our imagination, whose range is therefore limited. It will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one's arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one's mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-frequency sound signals; and that one spends the day hanging upside down by one's feet in an attic. In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions, and modifications.

The Philosophical Review, Vol. 83, No. 4 (Oct., 1974), pp. 435-450, Duke Press

But why let a philosopher stop this train of thought?

Embracing the discipline of perception

On a roll, further around Thorndon Park I saw a tree with a moderately-set trunk, some thin branches, and some spindly offshoot branches.

The photographer in me was initially drawn to the patterns before the evolutionist in me pondered over the survival value of this style of thin branchlets. A few moments later, I was wondering how a botanist might interpret and value this tree, before that thought gave way to imagining how a koala might assess its utility.

The return to trying to think like an animal reminded me of Nagel's warning, and so I returned to the realm of marketing.

If we can nurture curiosity about how customers and potential customers might think about a problem or issue, and try to understand how that applies to our messaging, we are going to engage in smart marketing, marketing that achieves relevance in a noisy world.

Of course, while it might be hard for Lisa to hear herself think while driving her old truck, imagining her being fully immersed in the experience of the moment is a pretty good model for us to consider when planning our marketing strategies: what is it like to be our customer?

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