Anthropology as the last mile of marketing

Anthropology is the new black.


Martin Lindstrom is the author of “Brandwashed”. My all-time favourite dark book about marketing. I think it was one of the first mentioned neuroscience as a selling tool. “Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends”, describes how he takes an anthropologic approach to help companies rebrand and refocus. Anthropology as the last mile of data.

It is the small data

Small data versus big data. If you want to understand how animals live, you don’t go to the zoo, you go to the jungle. He uses a technique he calls subtext research or small mining. A detailed process that involves visiting consumers in their homes, gathering small data offline and online, and crunching, or small mining, these clues with observations and insights taken from around the world, there almost always comes a moment where he uncovers an unmet or unacknowledged desire that forms the foundation of a new brand, product innovation or business.

Hunter of desire

He sees himself as a forensic investigator of small data or emotional DNA, a hunter, almost, of desire. No matter how insignificant it may first appear, everything in life tells a story. Desire is always linked to a story, and to a gap that needs to be filled: a yearning that intrudes, agitates and motivates human behaviour both consciously and unconsciously.

Random perceptions and chance revelations

The work he does is a sped-up version of ethnographic, or participatory anthropology and relies on random perceptions and chance revelations. Using a 7Cs framework. Collecting, Clues, Connecting, Causation, Correlation, Compensation and Concept. That included talking with local garbage collectors. No matter where they live in the world, they get to see, and smell, privileged information.

Your story

When you post a status update on Facebook, or “like” a piece of music, what are you telling the world about yourself? When you buy a pair of pants, or a new brand of shoes when you hang a set of bamboo curtains across your window or cherry-pick photographs to tack onto your refrigerator or leave out a bottle of facial moisturiser in your bathroom, what are you communicating?


Think of your residence as a place that is home to an infinite series of small voices that owners are broadcasting in every room. What unconscious, seemingly random pieces of small data are hanging from the walls, hiding inside “off-limits” zones like the refrigerator and the kitchen cabinets?

Anthropology is becoming a hot topic

I came across it first in “Moments of clarity”. Considering that management doesn’t know what to do with big data, everyone is searching for what is big data. The answer is small data. He does everything ensure that company executives experience their stores—and products—in the same way, consumers do. For example, thousands of Nestlé employees spend 48 hours a year visiting consumers in their homes. The CEO of Tesco has introduced “Mission Feet on the Floor,” a program in which every executive was required to work on the floor of one of its grocery stores for several days at a time. A bank chain was notorious for its slow customer service and long lines. Bank officials were asked to pretend they were customers. It was an exercise in frustration, and even rage. It transformed the business.


If data and analytics fall under the “Think” category and content, design and production development fall under the “Do” category, then marketers who focus on consumer engagement and interaction belong to the “Feel” category. All three functions are essential. Straight from “Metaskills

Be awake

In his view, the mission of any brand builder is really no different from that of anyone alive, which is to avoid what mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell once described as the greatest human transgression: namely, the sin of inadvertence—of not being alert, or altogether awake, to the world around us.


Some lessons I picked up. There are a lot more in the book and I recommend it to every marketer. Fascinating insights into fashion, countries, retails concepts, girls (selfies!) and a complete chapter to become a desire hunter yourself.

Candy moments

All humans experience are “candy moments”—an internal reward system that takes place while we’re working, reading, thinking or focusing, and that divides and re-energises our routines and re-stimulates our attention.


When a society is out of balance, its natives will always find ways to compensate or escape. As always human beings seek balance. The faster we go, the slower, in some respects, we will become. It may not always be conscious, but unconsciously we are all seeking to redress acceleration with idling, velocity with patience, chatter with quiet.If you want to find out, emojis are condensed emotions, and an unbiased reflection of a society’s emotional state, imbalance and compensation.

Market to the inner age

We have two ages. The first is our actual physical, chronological age. Then there’s our inner age, the age we feel emotionally inside. He calls this “emotional age” our Twin Self. Who among us, at 50 years of age, “feels” 50? Almost no one. A good rule of thumb in brand building is to communicate, always, to a consumer’s Twin Self. Someone’s inner age is directly connected to the first time we felt liberated and on our own.
Determine the age of their Twin Self by paying close attention to the musical playlists on their smartphones, computers or streaming music services.


Thanks to technology, we are all at least two people, with at least two residences: a bricks-and-mortar home and a home page. Sometimes they overlap, but often they don’t. Social media home pages and offline homes have another critical thing in common: only a small fraction of what we post on social media bears much resemblance to what’s really going on in our lives—and our real homes are often edited constructs of whom we believe ourselves to be. Brands fill in the missing holes of our identities. Everyone aspires to be something just a bit different than they actually are. In fact, most of us have up to ten discreet interdependent social identities, which are often in conflict. Try segment that as a marketer.


In an information age, most of us feel unanchored. The mobile economy has allowed many people to live anywhere they want, and the more “community”—that feeling of localness and belonging—makes its way online, the more it has dropped away in real life.  However, at our core we are all members of a tribe or series of tribes, starting with our nationalities and families, and extending to the towns or cities where we live. Gender is tribal. A profession is tribal. Political affiliation is tribal. Religious belief is tribal. Our friend groups are tribal, as is our age and even our appearance. The brands we like, and buy, and surround ourselves with have the most profound possible things to say about who we are and what true we want to belong Fashion gives consumers a shortcut to becoming a perceived member of an aspirational tribe.


Our choices, preferences and tastes have their origins in childhood. We prefer what we saw, heard or sensed first, whether it’s the colour of our childhood bedrooms or the lake, pool or ocean where we first learned to swim. If we “record” an experience using multiple senses, we remember it 200 per cent more than we would if only a single track were involved. Add a social element or a sense of belonging, and our memories engage even more powerfully with the experience. Somatic marker in our brains that permanently marks our experience, using an equation that goes like this: hot oven = the probability of pain. When people feel strong emotion, it creates a “bookmark” in their brains—it is a moment, or experience, they are unlikely to forget. Hence the investments by marketing in AR and VR.


Everyone aspires to be something just a bit different than they actually are. In every case, something is missing from people’s lives: a subconscious desire. We all look for transformation. Because smartphones and computers are chipping away at our opportunities for escape. With our phones and laptops eternally on, the concept of finding ourselves in an emotional state distinct from our everyday emotional lives is vanishing. Thanks to our phones we are never altogether present and never completely alone. The fewer opportunities for transformation we have in our lives, the more we crave it. A car is a transformation zone. Most of us “go to work” when we open our eyes every morning, only to stop “working” when we go to sleep. The only time we power off our laptops is when we’re in transit. We are in the same season, and emotional climate, all the time, one that’s neither work nor leisure, neither at our desk nor officially off-duty.

Permission zones and rituals

Brands need to create permission zones. A moment, or an environment, that allows consumers to “enter” an alternate emotional state. So focus on creating rituals. Rituals serve as an entry ticket to an exclusive universe consumers want to join, and the more often they repeat a ritual, the more of a hardcore fan they become. A ritual can be defined as a fixed sequence of behaviours or words that transport us from one emotional, social or physical state to another. Most rituals operate on two levels. The first is tangible, and sensory, while the second is symbolic and emotional.

Branding and religion

There are similarities between the world’s most influential brands and the world’s best-known religions: A sense of belonging; storytelling; rituals; symbols; a clear vision; sensory appeal; power from enemies; evangelism; mystery; and grandeur. Among the most elusive of these ten precepts is the sense of community and belonging.


When you develop a brand, he suggests looking at Hitchcock. He used two scripts. Blue and green. The Blue Script was entirely functional. In it were all the tangible onscreen components, including dialogue, props, camera angles and set descriptions. The second script, which Hitchcock referred to as “the Green Script,” chronicled in fine detail the emotional arc, or “beats,” of the film he was shooting. Mapping out what he wanted people to feel and at what point. Extremely relevant for AR and VR.

Mental shortcuts

Brands are also a mental shortcut. The best-branded countries and cities of the world can be distilled into one or two words. If it takes years for a city’s or a country’s brand identity to crystallise, it can also take a long time for a country to overcome a negative somatic marker.

London and Paris

Let’s look at London and Paris. To non-natives, London evokes various words and feelings, country’s “brand” is an aggregate of its wars, music, sports, climate, leadership, location, tacit traditions and national character—its entire social, political and cultural history—which blur and intersect over time. In the case of London, Big Ben and rain cannot be teased apart any more than love and food can be separated in Paris.

Digital ego and branding

The big question is for me is whether your future AI-driven digital assistant or your digital ego has brand loyalty as well.


When you develop a brand or product, look at the gay community. An encyclopedia could be written about the gay influence on heterosexual culture and fashion, and the ways in which gay men serve as bellwethers for trends eventually adopted by the mainstream. Moreover, many gay men are extremely opinionated; if they dislike a brand or store, find it corny or tacky, they will come right out and say so. Their opinion, in short, acts as a kind of quality control

Beach life

To be Carioca, you have to enjoy the beach and be casual in life.  The attributes of the Carioca lifestyle are, in fact, characteristic of any number of “water-facing” cultures around the world. Cariocas across the globe are influential in introducing fashions and brands to the rest of the world.


Who influences us to buy a certain product, helps us form an opinion or exposes us to a brand we later use ourselves—a wristwatch, a musical genre, a facial moisturiser, a wine label? It’s not something we often think about, but when I ask this question to people online and offline, the answer is invariably celebrities.


Children attain social currency among their peers by playing and achieving a high level of mastery at their chosen skill, whatever that skill happens to be. If the skill is valuable and worthwhile, they will stick with it until they get it right, never mind how long it takes. That explains the success of LEGO. LEGO is all about the summons, the provocation, the mastery, the craftsmanship and, not least, the hard-won experience. A version of reputation economics.

Combine this book with:

and you have a nice cocktail of marketing insights. Throw in “Killing marketing” as well.

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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