We do not understand our consumers by understanding trends. We understand trends by understanding our consumers.


More years ago than I care to recall I was at University reading Geography. One of the many very useful things I learnt was how to use satellite data to monitor the retreat of glaciers around the world and how we could track and measure the retreat of individual glaciers and then extrapolate this data to predict how they would change over the coming years. We could even look at the amount of rock material a glacier carried and predict what the valley would look like in the future as the glacier retreated.

All very clever and we felt that we understood what was happening to the glaciers. But in truth we understood very little, we were measuring what was happening and predicting future behaviour based on past experience. To extrapolate this to say that we understood global warming because we could measure its effects would have been a gross overstatement. In order to understand global warming we need to study a myriad of climatological data, we need to track and understand changes in the composition of the atmosphere etc. etc. and understand how and why these affect climate – and that is before we start to separate out what is natural and what is caused by man. It is only when we understand the drivers of climate change that we really start to understand what is happening to the glaciers.

So what has this got to do with understanding our consumers?

We spend considerable time and budget monitoring, measuring and predicting trends in our markets. We can be quite sophisticated in our predictions of how markets are moving and how we, as brand owners, need to respond to these trends. But we are measuring the glaciers. Trends are simply the manifestation of changes in our consumers’ wants and desires – their emotional requirements of our products. If we really want to understand the trends we need to understand our consumers’ emotional requirements and how these are changing.

Yes it is harder to understand consumers’ emotional requirements than it is to measure their behaviour, but luckily it is not as complicated as climate change. It can be done – we are doing it for clients all the time. It is when you understand your consumers’ emotional requirements of your products, how and why your products deliver to those requirements and how and why those emotional requirements are evolving that you start to understand the trends in your market.