Whose Rules Are You Following?


In our daily lives, some of us like rules, others don’t.  Depends on your personality and world view.

In our social and business lives however,  increasingly we are relying upon rule-based processes:  search engines, lending, investing, the computers that tell our cars, phones, and air conditioning what to do — these all operate on rule based algorithms.

With the advent of “big data,” CRM, and “Web listening” tools, rule-based processes now make up a good deal of marketing and advertising that takes place today.  Rules.  They are written by someone and they are followed, presumably achieving the most efficient and profitable results for the companies that use them.  Sometimes following rules means consulting a manual that might be on the shelf, or online.  Increasingly, as pointed out, rule following is done by a computer that has been programmed to follow them.

But what if we’re following the wrong rules?  Maybe not the “wrong” rules, but rules that are not really the most efficient or profitable, but we believe they are.  Are we creating a veneer of efficiency while our competitors are ferreting out better rules to go by?  Whose rules should we be following?

In marketing, organizations tend to look at patterns in consumer behavior, specifically the behavior of their own customers or prospects.  Sometimes companies feel they can identify good customers precisely by mining data — demographic profiles, shopping and purchasing patterns, online search activity, response to ads and ad offers.  What they’re looking for are patterns that seem to lead most likely to a sale, brand loyalty, lack of brand loyalty, etc.  Once these patterns or rules are discovered, marketers then “predict” what customers will respond to (i.e. messages, promotional materials, offers, etc.)  The rules, if they seem like they predict behavior consistently, are then used as rules for marketing to new customers and prospects.  Makes sense, yes?

Well yes, it does.  However, something making sense, and using rules that appear to work better that something in the past, doesn’t mean you’re using the right rules.  In fact, you could be using rules that will keep you from discovering rules that might make you more effective by orders of magnitude.  Rules your competitors may have discovered.

If we think about customers — what set of rules is more important:  ones we’ve deduced based on some of the patterns of their behavior — the ones we have access to —  or the rules customers actually use to make choices in their lives?  What’s that?  Rules customers make for themselves?  Could we get that book?

Customers run their lives by a set of rules all the time.  Yes, you and I do.  We run and use, consciously and unconsciously, checklists that filter information and lead us to decisions in our behavior.  Every day.  All day and night.  While some of these rules are highly individual (we all have our own stories we tell ourselves), by and large our filters, checklists, and rules are socially constructed; that is, we develop our meaning for things and our view of reality through our social interaction and experience.  Groups that share certain values, experiences  social norms and rituals (e.g. moms, police officers, accountants, teenagers), tend very much to attach similar meaning to objects and events and, more importantly, how to evaluate and interpret them,  based on how group members  experience objects and events within the group, particularly when the object of event is tied to activity the group shares (e.g. car seats for moms; the IRS for accountants).  Because the definition individual members of a group assign to objects, events and brands become part of the group’s shared social norms and ritual, the group’s shared definition typically becomes the individual’s definition, with certain twists.

What if you had a guide to the rules individuals within certain groups — your target markets — use when evaluating products, services and brands?  Would that be valuable?   More valuable than the rules that you infer from mining data?

You don’t need to decide.  You could have both.  A Tribal Leader Guide is just such a guide.