Social construction impacts everything you do. Even your marketing.
There are many different communication theories and ideas that guide me on an everyday basis as I do my job. One of the most important is social construction.
It impacts our lives in every way on a daily basis. It’s even going to impact the way you feel about this blog post but don’t take my word for it. Read on to find out why.
What Is Social Construction?
Social construction posits that the way you see the world comes through what you have experienced. All the interactions you have had, everything that you read, everything you see impacts your views.
Somebody who embraces social construction is interested in how you’ve created the viewpoints that you hold.
If you love football, the question would be, “What experiences has this person had that has led them to love football?”
It’s about the meanings that you have created based on the experiences that you have had.
Right now you’re likely thinking, “What the heck does this have to do with marketing and public relations?”
The ideas that you have about how marketing and public relations should work, the way that you plan and execute, and the messages that resonate with your audience are influenced by social construction.
When I was at Intel we always planned and measured everything. It was a company run by engineers, and it wasn’t interested in vanity metrics.
You don’t last seven years at Intel if you don’t assimilate the culture. Frankly, you wouldn’t last a year so it should come as no surprise that when I left, I had a strong belief that planning and measurement is important and had developed an aversion to vanity metrics.
This is social construction at work. My time at Intel shaped my views. This in turn influences my perception of the world around me.
Let’s look at a different example that happens all the time. The sales call.
I was on a call at the beginning of the year and the salesperson expressed frustration that people were saying they were using a model of marketing yet they weren’t doing it in the way that was envisioned.
The salesperson wasn’t necessarily wrong in their analysis. My gut tells me they were likely on the money they seemed to ignore the question, why? What was really behind people saying I’m doing w, x, y, and z when they were really doing only x and y?
The first thing that popped into my head was, “That actually makes sense because once this idea was released into the world, people took it and created their own meanings.”
In other words, people took this model and made it work in a way that made sense to them and this influenced by social construction.
Social Construction’s Influence On Marketing
Let’s go back to the example I gave earlier. Somebody loves football. Why? When you know the answer, you will have a deeper understanding. If you do marketing or public relations for the NFL this is important information.
There is a direct impact between a customer and the marketing. If you’re taking the extra step to find out why somebody loves football, you can use this information to inform how you market.
When you are creating marketing messages you should always be asking: What’s the value of this product or service to our intended audience?
When you use this information in your marketing you are trying to influence somebody using social construction. You’re trying to create an experience that shapes the way they view your product.
Here is another example. A company sells ski equipment. Obviously your audience is people who ski but why do they ski?
You can use the normal marketing tactics which highlight the features and benefits of the products you sell but what really drives them to ski? When you find that deeper meaning you are going to be able to create messaging that will resonate and drive action.
People come with ideas and opinions that were developed through social construction. This is a reason why cognitive bias can be so strong. There have been studies that have shown that even when people are presented evidence that a view they have is wrong, they will reject the evidence.
Why? It’s a truth that they hold. Where did this “truth” come from? Social construction.
Whether it is objectively right or wrong become irrelevant to the person holding that truth. What matters is they have some sort of experience that tells them that it’s true.
Here is a personal example.
I worked at three different large corporations. After my last corporate job, I decided that I was done working at corporations. I was sick of feeling like nothing more than a number. I was tired of the politics. I was through with the frustrations of management not walking its talk. I was disappointed by the company demanding loyalty but giving none in return. I was tired of feeling like a cog in the wheel of a company that saw me as expendable.
I’m not saying all corporations are bad. There are certainly many who treat their employees very well but my experiences had an impact on the way I see corporations.
There are marketing and public relations wizards who are really smart. I read and listen to what they say but sometimes something about them reminds me of the corporate experience I had. My feeling is that I’m just a metric to them. They can market to me all day long and that won’t change the way I feel.
There are also marketing and public relations wizards that come across as human and I find that even if I strongly disagree with them, I still feel a connection to them.
At the end of the day, marketing is about making a connection that influences action but social construction can impact this before anybody has ever seen your message.
The Marketing Spectrum
The problem that social construction brings is that much of what you are working with is out of your control.
Wil Reynolds, founder at Seer Interactive, made the point that you don’t know what people bring with them when they visit your website. The same would be true when they see your ad or see your latest social media post.
People show up with viewpoints but this doesn’t mean that there still isn’t room to influence them.
Regardless of what your company sells, people are going to fall on a spectrum.
On the positive side, you will find people who love what you do and couldn’t imagine doing business with anybody else. On the opposite end, you will find people who hate what you do and there isn’t enough money in the world that would get them to work with you.
In the middle, you will find those who have no real opinion either way. Between love and no opinion, you will find the people who like what you do. Likewise, between hate and no opinion, there will be people who don’t like what you do.
In terms of marketing dollars, spending money on people who have hate what you do is a waste of money.
I once talked to a prospect who told me they thought that digital marketing was stupid and a scam. I could have talked until I was blue in the face pointing out all the positives but it wouldn’t have made a difference. It would have been a waste of time.
Do you remember the Samsung phone ads where they made Apple users look like mindless cattle?
The ads weren’t aimed at the hardcore Apple people. They were aimed at the people in the middle of the spectrum who had no real opinion one way or another. They are the people who feel a phone is a phone. They don’t care what brand they get as long as it does what they want it to do.
They had a secondary audience which were the people who liked but didn’t love their iPhones. With enough nudging, those people might be willing to consider Samsung when they go to buy their next phone.
Beyond The Spectrum
The marketing spectrum is a nice place to start but your company should be digging deeper.
Your customers love you. Why? What experiences have they had that led them there?
Years ago I was having a problem with my computer. I was convinced it was a hardware issue and I took it in to a store to have them diagnose the problem. I fully expected a pricey bill to come out of this visit but it turned out there was a software update that would fix the issue. They applied the software updated and they sent me on my way with no charge.
This turned me into a big advocate for the company. If anybody asked me why I loved them so much I would tell this story.
At the opposite end of the spectrum I bought a product from an electronics company and had extremely poor experience. The product was giant pain to use. Not just once but most the time I tried to use it so I determined that I would never buy anything from this company ever again.
The point is, experiences impact us all the time. These experiences shape our views. This is social construction and it is always at work.
If you want to be a better marketer, find out why people feel the way they do. If you do, you will always stay a step ahead of your competitors.