The Future of Marketing Looks Like the Netflix Algorithm
Every company could learn from Netflix’s approach toward personalization and social behavior
Consumer personas—fictional customer character models built by marketers—are like horoscopes: “Nicole is careful with her spending, but under the right circumstances she’s willing to splurge on herself if the mood strikes her.” Read carefully and you’ll notice that psychographic profiling is full of generic, unverifiable, ambiguous, and often contradictory language that supports multiple interpretations.
Psychographics also mask the inherent unpredictability of our tastes and the complex ways they interact. My sister-in-law lives in an affluent suburb of Chicago. She owns a piece of Away luggage (before its fall from grace) and gets newsletters from Everlane. On the surface, she is a “Henry” (essentially a millennial with disposable income), but in reality, she is a middle-aged married mother of three who now owns products from both brands because they relentlessly pursued her through direct-mail discounts until she finally gave in.
Inferring about psychographics based on the products people buy is unreliable. People buy the same things for wildly different reasons: There’s a discount; they are struck by a certain mood at a specific time; they know other people who already have them.
Equally problematic is the how often personas focus on the individual, because it ignores the fact that people are social creatures. Real people belong to communities and are part of influence networks that they use to decide what to watch, read, buy, and pay attention to.
Thanks to the internet and its numerous influence networks, products across categories are now more susceptible to trends than to individual preferences. A show becomes popular because a lot of people watch it, and it’s entirely possible that a big chunk of the show’s audience exists not because the show reflects their interests or values, but because everyone else they know is watching a show and they do not want to be left out (Netflix even unrolled the fast-forward viewing option for those people.)
Instead of focusing on individuals, we should focus on their relationships and look at the communities…