Do You Treat Your Customers As Humans or As Numbers?

Is the goal of your business to fulfill needs in your customers’ lives or is it merely to “sell more stuff to more people more often for more money more efficiently?”1

If the latter is your main goal, you should probably stop reading and go share a New Coke with Sergio Zyman.

Same As It Ever Was

When mass marketing first showed signs of failing, the first thought was that customers suddenly changed. But, humans didn’t change and they haven’t for a very long time.

Mass marketing started to fail simply because people quickly had more things to look at on more devices.

People always ignored what companies told them, it wasn’t new: In 1965 Bill Bernbach quipped, “Do you know that 85% of ads don’t get looked at? This is a statistic gathered by people commissioned by the advertising business…We’re not even hated! They ignore us.”2

People only have a limited amount of energy to spend each day and now there’s more to look at—so more will be ignored—and the way they’re allocating their attention has changed, but not what their attention can do. Their attention span has decreased—they spend less time on any one thing—but they’ve gotten better at deciding what’s interesting. They’re allocating their attention differently.

Now, you have to work harder to be relevant.

Big Data To The Rescue

With technological expansion also came more ways to measure customers. It has become common to see companies thinking that more data equals better results.

It’s easy to see why: the promise of Big Data is impressive. But, better tools don’t necessarily equate to better results.

Companies are spending more on analytics, but many find they aren’t getting any better results. An with Big Data, many companies find the deluge of information is making things worse.

Marketers are analyzing more and more data in the hopes that it will eventually. somehow create results. It’s become a mentality that if they’re doing it we should too. But, few know what to do with it.

This is a dangerous spot to be in because not only is collecting and analyzing that much data expensive, but the more you have, the easier it is to get lost in the sea.

Asking the Right Questions

The assumption that the customer has changed has resulted in an all-out attempt at understanding them by force.

But, the answer won’t magically appear. And, customers haven’t changed, not at their basic human levels. Understanding the customer begins with stepping back and understanding them as humans rather than as numbers.

The questions are simple: What deep human needs do I fulfill for my customers? What tensions am I solving?

Getting to those answers is anything but simple.

But, only once you understand their deep motivations specific to your business can you begin to understand what is important to collect and what lens to view it through.

Until you understand your customers as humans and not as numbers, you’ll waste money and time on analytics.


  1. Sergio Zyman, The End of Advertising as We Know It, 2003.
  2. Dennis Higgins, The Art of Writing Advertising, 2003.
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