The Problem with Human Beings – from a Marketer’s Perspective

Rory Sutherland, writing in the September 2013 Edition of the journal of the Marketing Society, Market Leader, highlights in his usual eloquent manner the potential tendency for people’s ‘threshold of indignation’ to be lowered if they believe an organisation is not using information they hold about them to improve their customer experience.

This is, of course, not a new phenomenon.

The classic problem with human beings is that they are capable of independent thought. That is why armed forces training is the way it is. Sometimes too much independent thought is not good for business, or rather, not good for controlling a business.

Traditional marketing didn’t have to worry too much about this. You created your message, put it out there, and people either responded or they didn’t. There was no expectation on either side that it would be any different.

Now, however, buyers expect you to know who they are if they have shared information about themselves with you. They don’t expect you to ignore it and, because they place a value on it, if you do ignore it then that says to them that you do not value their custom.

Fortunately these ‘feedback loops’ as they are termed in the world of customer data modelling are a normal part of the information set used to predict future customer behaviour.

If someone holds a loyalty card this will be flagged on their customer record and forms part of the set of data we call ‘circumstance’ information. When modelling customer behaviour this fact will make a difference in the modelling and combining this with other information, such as the facilities available at his local Starbucks store, will enable us to predict Rory’s rightful indignation that as a supposed valuable customer he would be more put out by the withdrawal of useful services such as WiFi (even more so in that case as the customer record would also show he was a user of the WiFi).

I can assure Rory that there are some companies out there (like Sainsbury’s, Carphone Warehouse, Homebase and others) who do take those types of considerations into account when planning business decisions.

They form part of an overall framework known as ABC Modelling where ABC stands for Attitudes, Behaviours and Circumstances and you can learn more about it on our analytics web site (

As a practitioner in modelling customer behaviour it is amusing to see many digital marketers suddenly realising that there is another whole dimension to consumer behaviour – the fact that people do not only have opinions but those opinions really do change and influence behaviour. If only all humans were like Pavlov’s dog it would be so much simpler (but, I would argue, a lot less interesting).