Self / awareness

I‘ve been trying to compile a presentation about objectivity, subjectivity and truth. I’m attempting to describe how understanding consumer behaviour requires you a) combine methodologies so that you’re shining a light from many different angles, and b) to understand yourself, your own biases and motivations.

The problem is that when I think I’ve made progress, I realise I’ve missed another jigsaw piece. The issue is fractal. I don’t understand it well enough to present a simple argument. 

In the meantime there’s this model of identity that I’ve seen around a few places, most recently in Stephen Bayley’s section of this book. I like it because it brings the issue of perception and reality together concisely. And as it’s a Venn diagram in three parts it must be correct.

It states that we have three distinct identities:

  1. The person we are
  2. The way we think we come across to others
  3. The way we actually come across to others

These elements might be closely linked, or not, as the case may be. There’s a good argument to suggest you should pay close attention to the third element. Feedback from others allows you to update your map of reality, allowing you to pilot yourself to your desired destination more easily.

Consider the following pictures and ask yourself who this man is, what image does he intend to project and how does this differ from the impression he actually makes.

For me it’s as a good example of self-perception and public perception becoming disconnected. It’s also a reason not to be surrounded by yes men. But then again I’m not the intended audience.

Anyhow why is this important? I find it useful to think about the model when talking to consumers. When they make a claim, from which reality does it spring? When a brand is adopted is the intention to satisfy audience 1 (self) or 2 (others), and is the actual effect (3) different to what was intended? To what extent are people even aware of how people perceive them and their choices? When being interviewed about a purchase decision how much of what is actually said is the post-hoc rationalisation of an emotional decision process an indivdual was unaware of at the time – even if they could remember it three months later?

Or more simply –

Consumers verbalise their version of reality to us.

It’s our job to factor this in as we consider client problems and answer the ‘why’ questions.

About Simon Shaw

I'm a Director at an insight consultancy. I'm interested in marketing, market research & consumer psychology. The views expressed are not necessarily those of my employer.
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