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#26 – Reality check: making culture over researching culture, perspective taking over empathy, and communities over commerciality
we’re back with another issue of Strategy Bites. This week is mostly about a big reality check for the marketing world. We’re looking at the issues with foresight and why we need to get back to making culture versus just researching it, commercialising communities (against their will), looking beyond Ad Land, blindly celebrating empathy, customer service, and building trust in a remote work world. Fun!
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Here are this week’s Six Links of Inspiration:
Foresight as activism – researching vs. making culture. If you read one thing from this issue, read this one. Matt Klein shines a light at the state of research and forecasting and an obsession with an industry with predicting what’s next at the expense of creating what’s next. It expresses wonderfully what I have felt for a while and which was a decisive factor of why I wanted to go back closer to the making beyond just consulting. “While it’s tempting to play with scenario planning and leave it at the implications, we must not hide behind the data, deck or titles of our roles, protecting us from the vulnerability of getting out there and doing the messy work: making the futures we wish to see.”
The all-out revolt against Knitting.com helps explain boycotts at Reddit and Etsy. This is an interesting exploration of the power of online communities and how businesses need to tread carefully when trying to monetise their relationships (or non-relationships) with the people who are the heart of these collectives. “Entertain for a moment, this comparison: A platform like Reddit or Etsy is akin to an internet landowner, owning the physical infrastructure (i.e. servers) and legal rights to a platform. Users on the platform are like tenant farmers—techno-serfs, if you will. They produce value through their activity on the site, which is then harvested. The profits are partially, or sometimes almost wholly, scooped up by platform owners. The contract between the two is that users can exist on the site, or set up shop, for ‘free,’ because their activity is monetizable. In turn, data is forfeited to the platforms and concentrated in their servers.”
Marketing is in desperate need of a reality check. Here’s another article from the WARC series about the Future of Strategy. In this one, Richard Huntington discusses the need for marketers to reconnect with reality. (I sense a theme in this week’s issue…) It highlights how marketers often operate in an alternate reality, detached from the lives of the people they are meant to understand and serve. The article calls for a movement called "The Marketing Reality Movement" that focuses on representing and serving the real needs of real people. It emphasises the importance of understanding people's lives on their terms and challenges marketers to love and respect the people they serve.
Customer service is getting worse—and so are customers. I found myself on the hotline to Lufthansa to amend a flight booing recently. Somewhere between the booking and the confirmation some details have been muddled up. I tried to sort it online which didn’t work, so by the time I dialled the number and had a representative on the line I was annoyed. Every time I called, I heard the familiar “we’re experiencing an unexpected volume of calls right now.” Surely, if it’s happening this frequently, it’s no longer unexpected. Turns out, customer service seems to have been in steady decline for a while. And, as a result, I’m not really surprised that 17% of customers admitted to being “uncivil” in their interactions with businesses.
Burst your bubble...about empathy. This is a great piece that puts some helpful nuance on the usual narrative of marketers trying to be more “empathetic” in order to become more “customer focused.” In light of big perception and empathy gaps remaining, Ian Murray offers this piece of insight: “Here then is a fundamental flaw in the marketing playbook. The science of empathy shows that it works when directed towards small groups of proximate people. It doesn’t work when we need to think about large groups of anonymous people who don’t live like we do or live where and how we live.” He expands on this in his WARC column and writes where he suggests a different model, the idea of perspective taking (which is not the same as empathy.) Perspective taking is a cognitive (i.e., not emotional) process focused on the act of perceiving a situation or understanding a concept from a particular point of view. We improve our capacity for perspective taking by focusing on three things: (1) Expanding our knowledge (of alternative contexts and worldviews). (2) Building our capacity for reflexivity – i.e., our ability to critically examine our own emotions values and beliefs. (3) Motivation – having the desire to embrace nuance and complexity.
Having books in your Zoom background makes you seem more trustworthy. Here’s a fun little useful piece of research for all those remote workers out there: put more books into your Zoom background if you want to be seen as more trusthworthy. That’s it. That’s the article.
I hope you found the articles useful. If you did, feel free to share this edition with your friends. And if not, feel free to reach out and let me know that you didn’t.
Enjoy your weekends & see you next week.