How anthropology can help you unlock dazzling marketing ideas

Michael Henderson introduces us to corporate anthropology, and explains how it can help us better understand our consumers and our workplace culture.

This article originally appeared in The Culture Issue, our August/September issue of Marketing magazine.

It’s not often you see the words ‘anthropology’ and ‘marketing’ in the same sentence. Why would you? They’re two vastly different disciplines, right?

One belongs to the social sciences and the other to business. Anthropology is that slightly dated method of studying and understanding human culture, whereas marketing is the ever advancing, constantly adapting business discipline that ensures organisations are constantly revisiting and repackaging their offers and positioning them in new, unique and exciting ways.

Yet, how often is the audience truly blown away by an innovative, timely and resonant marketing message? Far too often, marking messages are merely copied versions of a previous incarnation. When was the last time you saw a new and intriguing advert for a car, cosmetic, washing detergent, insurance policy or travel destination?

Despite marketing constantly branding itself as a creative process, it often delivers the business equivalent of déjà vu – that visceral sense that you have seen and heard this before.

What would it take for marketing to shake things up and communicate with new messages?

If marketers truly wish to capture their audience’s attention then they’d be better focusing on vu jàdé, rather than delivering déjà vu.

So, what is vu jàdé?

Tom Kelley, CEO of the innovation and design pioneering organisation IDEO, coined the phrase ‘vu jàdé’ as a memorable flip on déjà vu, suggesting that rather than feeling as though we have seen this all before, we should approach marketing with a beginner’s mind, with a willingness to set aside what is already known and concentrate on allowing fresh insight and understanding to emerge.

Which…

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