Zooming In, Zooming Out: 2 Focal Lengths for Better Audience Understanding

Instead of a scientist measuring a particle, imagine you’re a marketer and the red dot is your audience. You really want to know who they are, so you try to get close.

I truly admire artists like Keith Haring. He created an iconic style that’s known across the world — even by people who don’t know the artist’s name. And when I think about creating an iconic, signature style like that, I imagine artists have an idea that they simply can’t shake. And they keep trying, over and over, to create the perfect expression of their vision. Only with each iteration, they are creating something that may be based on the same idea … but each expression is entirely new unto itself. And is its own version of perspective.

Now … I’m not an artist. I certainly don’t have an iconic style. But I do have an idea that I can’t get out of my head. I keep returning to it over and over again. Because I know there’s a lesson for marketers in the idea. So once again, I’m diving into The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — a scientific principle I’ve used in many presentations before.

In the simplest terms, the principle establishes this: There is a limit to the ability that you can understand both the exact location and the exact momentum of a particle in motion.

There’s an equation that goes along with the principle, and it includes things like The Planck Constant, central to quantum mechanics. But for the sake of this marketing article, we’ll focus on this visual expression of the idea:

John Lane artIf you’re trying to measure the precise location of the red dot, you’d want to get as close to it as possible, to plot the exact X and Y axis — down to the deepest decimal. “The fifth nine,” if you will.

If you’re trying to measure the exact momentum (to understand how fast the dot is moving from one spot to another), you’d take a view from the top, open end of the cone — so you’d have context to measure the location in relation to other objects at varied times.

To get better understanding of one aspect — location or momentum — you lose the ability to focus on the other.

Now, instead of a scientist measuring a particle, imagine you’re a marketer and the red dot is your audience. You need to know both to be successful. You need to get up close to connect. You need to see the bigger picture to create a lasting relationship. To truly understand your audience, you’re going to need to zoom in and zoom out.

Zooming In: To know your audience,  you try to get close. (At least I hope so. But for most brands, it’s more like close-ish. As close as they can get without actually talking to that audience. But that’s a different post.) You should want to do this to ensure you’re going to set up camp on a channel with a storyline that will resonate greatly.

Zooming Out. To ensure the money you’re spending on that channel and that storyline is well spent — that it isn’t wasted on a trend that passes in a hot second — you need a more broad view. You need to see all the different influences on your audience that you can only get from a broad view.

Marketers’ Most Recent Answer to Solving the Riddle of Getting Both Perspectives Is Big Data

But here’s the even newer wrinkle (and why this principle is back in my head again): The growing reliance on Big Data is actually best for the broad view. And relying on big data is steadily pulling us marketers farther and farther up the cone. It’s allowing marketers to better see where people were, and where they might be headed. But it’s taking us farther and farther away from understanding the individuals within our audience. It’s creating — and even causing us to crave — an abstracted view of our audience rather than a precise view.

The Answer to This Problem Is: More Small Data!

Small Data is gathered by actually reading the comments on Instagram posts. Not just the comments they leave on your post … but the one they left on their best friend’s post yesterday. Within that comment — that comment gained through super-tight focus — are the keys to communicating in their language … to connecting with them based on a challenge, need, value or passion that that individual is expressing.

Small Data is gathered by talking to your audience. You ask for input or invite it, rather than always pushing your message. Once the input flows in — whether via suggestions or questions — you don’t stop after a two-line conversation. You cultivate the third, fourth and fifth exchanges. And then you incorporate your new discoveries based on the conversation into your storyline and lexicon. (This is qualitative input, not based solely on the Big Data algorithm breakdown of the exchange.)

Small Data Is …

Yes, Big Data is good. The bigger picture — the momentum and direction — is important. But Small Data — the highly-specific details gained by tight inspection and interaction — is just as important (if not more so) to building engagement.

So take a lesson from science! Think about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Deliberately take two views of your audience — by zooming in to Small Data, zooming out with Big Data, and continually repeating the process. Your marketing will be better for it.