Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Four Life Spheres

Most marketers are getting increasingly challenged by the mounting difficulties to understand their real boss – the consumer. The consumer becomes more and more a fickle phenomena that changes its behavior and mind set daily. The consumer world has evolved into a highly fragmented universe of millions of differentiated gatherings of somehow related individuals (called households in the marketer speak). The growing flood of consumer data with more research and data mining does not sufficiently help the marketer to really understand the consumer.

I count myself part of this sometimes frustrated group of hyper-conscious marketer who lament their own ignorance, despite more data and analytical capabilities. But, sometimes this veil of frustration is lifted and there appears a glimpse of insight. Over the last days one pattern seems to get clearer in my mind while contemplating the power of brands like Wal-Mart and Best Buy and their sometimes successful, sometimes failed marketing programs. I call this pattern: The Four life spheres. Let me try to explain.

Today’s Consumers live, think and breath primarily in four distinct areas of life that are organized by a distinct time dimension, a week. These four life spheres are: Family, Work, Entertainment, and Shopping. All these four life spheres seem to be organized in weekly terms, not longer, not shorter. All individuals (=consumers) manage, struggle, migrate between these four areas in weekly time chunks with habitual behaviors that change only slowly. But over the last years two key things are happening here: these four life spheres, on the one hand, become more and more intertwined. On the other hand, they become more and more demanding and complex by themselves.

These life spheres are sometimes highly organized and driven by a life sphere CEO, sometimes they seem more self organized and rather chaotic. What has changed in this life set-up of weekly patterns?

  • Traditionally, women owned the CEO role in Family and Shopping, men in work and entertainment. These have significantly changed, the life sphere CEO role is much more fluid and situational
  • Throughout the day some of the four life spheres are collapsing into one sphere, like when the entertainment and family spheres become one or when the shopping and entertainment collapses. Some of the collapsing forces are externally driven. Some of them are conscious decisions by the consumer himself.
  • Today’s consumer tries much more than ever before to balance all these life spheres in a healthy way instead of sacrificing one for the other, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Important is the strive for this balance.

What does this mean for us marketers? We have the obligation to understand the intertwining of these four life sphere over a weekly 7 day span to really unlock the key behavioral motivators that drive brand decisions. We need to understand how our prospects and customers interact with our brand products and service offerings across these four life spheres. Only the relevant brand intersection within and across these life spheres will build a long lasting competitive advantage. A brand needs to have a communicative and service oriented role in as many of the life spheres as possible, not just in the moment of shopping. Apple’s iPods success can be very well explained by its successful penetration of its product across all four life spheres.


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