The Business of Human Behavior

Customer Experience


June 21, 2016

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

People don’t make any sense. In many ways, this is why the category of Marketing exists. We constantly go back and forth trying to balance empirical and emotional forces within us. Knowing this, we need to understand that frequently purchase decisions in one category often don’t correlate to purchase decisions in another. This challenges enterprises to understand the situational factors that influence these differences, and deliver a holistic, branded experience that meets an individual’s varied needs and expectations.

This is impossible to do without a strong purpose that brings shared meaning to the relationship between organizations and consumers. Let me illustrate with an example.

If you only focused on one purchase in my life – my car – you might assume I am a tree hugging eco-warrior. I am not. I drive the electric powered BMW i3, arguably the most sustainable car on the planet. Everything inside the car is recyclable, and it is manufactured in a plant using wind energy. It makes my 50-mile commute economical while reducing my carbon footprint. Yet on the weekends I race cars, which use traditional carbon-based fuels. Hardly consistent with my i3 purchase decision, until you realize how each activity is born from a common drive. The drive to optimize the tool to the purpose.

BMW is a great example of a company that is constantly innovating to achieve their purpose uniquely, yet authentically, to meet the needs of consumers. They recently shifted their go-to-market message from a luxury car manufacturer to, in their own words, a “mobility company.”  With this purpose as their core, they have spawned services and functionality that are attempting to disintermediate car rentals, car sharing, and even Uber-like services. In doing so they are no longer simply making cars, but “making people mobile.” They’re connected, and they understand the transformation required of their business to deliver what being a mobility company means today. Whether I’m racing one of their M Coupe, taking a conference call on my commute home, or using their car sharing service around our Seattle office, BMW is there – helping me stay connected, stay mobile, avoid friction and satisfy my guilty pleasure of weekend car racing.

And while a powerful shared purpose is critical for organizations to achieve what BMW has achieved for me, it cannot only exist on paper. Organizations must maintain a comprehensive, almost predictive, understanding of their customers in order to manifest their purpose in products and services that resonate, lead and last. And they must be prepared to constantly adapt ahead of the changing needs and expectations of their consumers.

The implication is that future market leaders will be those who can propel themselves into a world where they are no longer in a product category, but in the business of understanding human behavior – however contradictory it may be.

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