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Chapter 5: Open The Aperture


Who is your target audience? What do you know about those people? Most marketing efforts include consumer research, but too often that research provides a narrow, limited view of consumers, seeing them only as consumers rather than as three-dimensional human beings. By 'opening the aperture' and taking a broader view of the people you're trying to reach, with a fuller sense of who they are, you can transform the way you approach your marketing.

'So, tell me,' I begin, looking at the eight people gathered around the overpolished conference table. The group has been selected because they all have something in common: They are all devoted users of a client's product. They've come here to share their insight, to give the insider's view on ...

'Cream cheese. Let's talk about cream cheese. Now, how exactly do you go about spreading cream cheese on your bagel? Let's start with this end of the table . . . '

Absurd? Absolutely. Yet serious, intense discussions of how exactly you spread cream cheese - or squeeze toothpaste, or deal with cat litter - go on every day.

Everyone knows that businesses are supposed to do consumer-led research, but in fact they look at people through a narrow perspective: How do they interact with My Product? We know these people only in terms of their behavior within a category: We may know them as heavy users of contact lense solution or hair gel. This (naturally) provides you with only a tiny piece of who these people are - it doesn't give you enough juice to understand how to reinvent the whole brand.

When there is only narrow research and understanding, the brand itself appears narrow. You have to widen the aperture, to see the user in a broader context. Brands that do this take on a fuller dimension themselves. Take a look at Patagonia - it assumes that it's consumers care about other things besides it's outdoor-oriented clothing. The food retailer Trader Joe's has a sense of wit, not taking itself too seriously. Their marketing inserts are designed to evoke a smile, not just dryly regurgitate descriptive food product information. It constantly introduces new food products, often with healthy spin, into it's lineup. Customers come in with the expectation that soon enough there will be a new food choice to integrate into their diet should they be so inclined.

How do you go about opening your aperture and seeing the consumer in a fuller way? First, you need to make the Copernican Shift in your point of view.

The Copernican Shift

In 1530, the astronomer Nicolas Copernicus published his work De Revolutionibus, which asserted that, contrary to popular belief, the earth was not the center of the universe. Keep in mind that all his observations were made with the naked eye-this was a hundred years before the invention of the telescope. Copernicus's idea was violently rejected by scientists and religious authorities alike, and definitive proof of it did not come along for 150 years. But even before supporting evidence was gathered, forward thinkers had already adopted this new paradigm: Man was not smugly placed in the center of everything, but rather was clinging to one small sphere in a vast universe. This change in paradigm - what I call the Copernican Shift - was an important step in the maturation of science; astronomers would no longer be content to accept what appeared to be obvious.

When you are looking at any problem situation, keep Copernicus in mind. What assumptions are you making? Are you (and your product) in the center of the universe? Really?


Your Own Copernican Shift - Part One

The Copernican Shift is a powerful tool for positive transformation, for the marketing of a product, or even for yourself. Do this exercise before you begin reading the rest of this chapter.

On a piece of paper, draw a circle with the name of your company, product, or service, or even your own name, in the center.

In orbit around it, write the names of the different critical factors that the company, product, or service (or you) interacts with. You can model this on the pre-Copernican worldview shown previously.

For example, if you write a company's name in the center, the orbiting objects could possibly be competitors, employees, customers, Wall Street, and so on. If you write your own name, the orbiting objects could be your spouse, your children, your friends, your career, and your volunteer organization.

You'll find the second part of this exercise later in the chapter.



Go to the mall or to the grocery store and start noticing the characteristics of, and the marketing for, different products. For each product, ask, Is this product presented as if it were the center of the universe? (In other words, are its features trumpeted more than the benefits it offers? Is the product designed with the user in mind? Is it beautiful or utilitarian?) Or does it seem that the product is presented as fitting in as just one part of the customer's whole life? Make a list of what strikes you about a range of products.

Then leave the store and go to the zoo, or out into nature. Look at the animals and plants. Which of them act as if they were the center of their own universe, and which seem to have adapted to fit in with the grander scheme of things.

Now look at popular entertainment (music, television / online video series, movies, books), government policies, and even the other people in your life, and evaluate them by the same criteria.

Begin to arrange your lists into groups.

What do you notice?

The Energy Is In The Listener

With clients, the first step I usually take is to help them understand that they are not seeing the world through their consumers' eyes. They are looking at their consumers rather than experiencing the world as their consumers experience it. The client thinks that the energy is happening within the company or its processes or its packages or its product formulas, but the real energy is happening within its consumers - their lives, their hopes, their families.

Many companies that still see themselves as the center of the universe want to increase their gravitational pull, so to speak, and draw their consumers in closer. A company that has made the Copernican Shift understands that it is a moon circling its consumer - she is the center of her own world. The company can increase the brightness and the clarity with which it shines in the sky, making itself stand out from the starry background, but it isn't at the center of things.

I remember the words of a philosophy instructor I had. He said that the energy in a conversation really happened inside the listener, not inside the speaker. This is exactly what happens with the Copernican Shift - it's where your message lands and what the listener does with it that are really important.

Empathy Boards

How do you go about making the Copernican Shift and seeing the world from a consumer-centric perspective? To see people in a broader way, you must understand the world they travel through. This is almost the reverse of the 'path through the day' exercise - you must follow in a person's footsteps and re-create the world that person sees.

Think about the way the forensic investigators on primetime detective television shows go about solving the crime: They lay out each piece of the evidence and see what the picture that is created then tells them - which is often different from the hypothesis that they had at the beginning. What you're really doing is forensic reconstruction of a person's daily life.

To really empathize with the people you want to reach, you need to understand the visceral emotion underlying the part of their world that you are exploring. Dive under the surface to see what drives their world, what fuels their passion.

I've found that when taking people through guided imagery exercises, it doesn't take long before strong emotional responses pour out from them, with the intensity of their feelings often surprising them (and me). A woman who was raising three children described how she saw her family literally growing like a garden as she watered and tended it; preteen girls described the gray anxiety and loneliness that they felt between the hours when they saw their friends; and a group of men who were interested in home improvement (normally not the most expressive guys) were overwhelmed with memories of working with their dads when they were young - the smell of sawdust, paint, and glue was still vivid and clear.

Once you've dug your way down to the place where the emotion is glowing like some sort of radioactive ore, how do you maintain the strength and power of that energy?

I like to create collages, or 'empathy boards.' This is a technique that I use to try to capture the texture of someone's life and experience in a way that can be communicated to someone else visually - a way to try to hang on to the elemental drives that you've uncovered in the people you're trying to reach. It keeps you from getting lost in typical marketing jargon - it keeps the juice in your concept and stops that concept from drying out into something flat and unexciting.

Let's look at an example.

Piece By Piece

What goes into these empathy boards? You want these boards to be teeming with imagery - photographs, drawings, and quotations - that gives context to the life of the person you're trying to understand. What are the conflicts? What things resolve those conflicts?

Think about every step this person takes throughout his or her day. What sorts of things might he or she come in contact with?

Where does he go? What kinds of outdoor spaces does he visit? Urban, rural, or suburban? Gardens? Cityscapes? What kind of indoor spaces? Cluttered? Open? Dull? Overstimulating? What passes in front of his eyes?

What is she reading? Digital social media; Facebook, or Snapchat? The back of a cereal box? The latest young adult fiction book?

What technology or machines does she interact with every day? Video games? Mobile phones? Tools? Kitchen appliances? A car? A laptop computer?

Who else inhabits his world? Parents? A spouse or life partner? Friends?

Think of the empathy board as a 'flash-forward' montage through the day, a series of snapshots of the places and things surrounding the path this person takes every day. What are the dimensions of her world?

It's important that you reach into as many different disciplines as you can think of to find inspirational images. What inspiration can you find in the arts: architecture, painting, drawing, sculpture, folk art, photography?

Look for imagery in the sciences: botany, zoology, archaeology, paleontology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy.

Looking at Brancusi sculptures or at the graph of an algebraic equation isn't the obvious answer when you're thinking about how to reach, say, college-age guys or over-40 executive women. Answers may not always leap out instantly, but the technique of forcing connections between seemingly unrelated things can give rise to some surprising and unique ideas.

We will explore this and other idea-generating techniques further in the next chapter, 'Break the Board.'


Your Own Copernican Shift- Part Two

Earlier in the chapter, you drew your company, your product, your service, or yourself in the center of the universe.

Now it's time to make your own Copernican Shift. In the center of the universe, write or draw the name of a person or group of people that you're trying to connect with, either interpersonally or through a company, product, or service.

Then put yourself in the place of that person or group. Draw in the orbits of the things you imagine that he, she, or they have to deal with on a regular basis. Put in everything you can think of - and don't forget to put yourself in there.

When you're done, study the drawing and imagine how you relate to the center of this particular universe - and to everything else that's in orbit around it.

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