The only thing humans have in common is our uniqueness. This belief led marketers to overemphasize consumer psychographics. For example, my sister-in-law lives in an affluent suburb of Chicago. She owns a piece of Away luggage and gets newsletters from Everlane. On the surface, she is a HENRY, but in reality, she is a middle-aged married mother of three who now has both brands because they relentlessly pursued her through direct mail discounts until she finally gave in. People buy same things for wildly different reasons: there’s a discount, they are in different moods at different times, other people have this same thing. Psychographics also ignore the fact that people are social creatures that are susceptible to social pressures and influences. We may watch a show not because we like it but because our friends are watching it, and so that we discuss it with them. We drink flax milk not because we like it or are environmentally conscious, but because we want to send social signals of being enlightened. Regardless of this behavioral tendency, marketers love to assign every consumer choice with meaning. (A lot of unnecessary innovations came out of it, like a robot bartender or a new Coke).
Instead of focusing on individuals, there’s a collective dimension of consumer behavior. Political scientist Benedict Anderson coined a term “imagined community” to describe horizontal bonds between people who haven’t met and don’t know each other, but have similar affinities, beliefs, interests and attitudes. Social media platforms like TikTok or streaming platforms like Netflix or Spotify create a sense of community, where streaming the same music or entertainment creates a temporary bond among strangers.
These temporary bonds reshape the geography of influence, taste, and communities towards micro. The big, sweeping planes of culture that asked for big, sweeping products and personalities are replaced with many micro cultures, each with their own niche products and personalities. Our concepts of “cool” and “iconic” are forged in the intimacy of our own taste communities.
This analysis continues after the jump
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