Beyond Batman: Understanding The Events That Shape Our Customers

We join with the world in sorrow and grief over the Aurora, Colorado massacre.

As a culture, we’ll be a long time figuring out what went wrong, and why. As business leaders, we have to understand the impact of events like this have on our customers.

For the owners of movie theaters, this is a huge and immediate concern. But what does it mean for the rest of us? You may not think there’s an immediate connection. If you’re selling women’s clothes or automobiles or the finest financial planning instruments, at this point, you’re thinking, “Exactly what does this horrible shooting have to do with my customer base?”

Culture, Community, and The Ties That Bind

We’ve talked before about the fact that our customers don’t exist in isolation. Approaching business from a humanistic perspective means understanding that we’re all connected: every single customer is part of a family, a neighborhood, a larger culture. The groups we belong to partly define us. Our behaviors, decisions, and world views are partly shaped by the behaviors, decisions, and world views of the people we associate with.

It’s important to remember that systems—all systems, every system—move inevitably from stability to instability. Entropy is a universal force. Things come undone. We see this on the physical level as well as the social level.  Once great institutions—the central forces that guided and shaped every decision that people made—are not so powerful anymore.

People no longer identify as strongly or as wholly with their church, country, or community as they once did.  This process can take place over the course of time—an in-depth examination of American Catholicism is a good example here—or it can happen very rapidly. How many people applying to work for your organization this week are going to have Penn State proudly listed at the top of their resume?

The groups may falter and fail, but the need to belong remains. Let’s bring our attention back to Aurora for a moment. Examining the coverage of this horrific event reveals one surprisingly strong narrative thread: outrage that this shooting happened specifically in a movie theater. People go to the movies to be entertained, surely, but they go for other reasons: to be anonymous in the audience, free from the responsibility to be aware of and engaged with others, and to give over one’s attention wholly to a story. The setting may be secular, but the experience is close to sacred. To be violated here, in this fashion, is not a trivial thing.

Right now, our customers are largely conscious of this. We know a woman who told her mother she was going to a midnight showing of Batman, to show solidarity with and compassion for the Aurora victims. Her mother’s advice? Wear sensible shoes. Just in case you have to run. You never know.

A year from now, two years from now, those words may have faded, but the sentiment will remain, tucked away in the collective unconscious of our customers. The spaces we assumed were special and sacred, different from the rest of the world and free from the world’s worries, aren’t, really. This will shape their decision making in new and complex ways. We see this after every large scale traumatic event, even if it appears that our customers aren’t directly affected.

It is our role, as business leaders invested in providing superior service to our customer base, to be aware of the changes in group behavior. Some people are going to buy running shoes in the wake of Aurora. Some people are going to buy guns. What about your customers? You need to know what they’re are going to do and why they’re going to do it. That’s the type of awareness that separates leading organizations from the rest of the pack.

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