This week’s Time Magazine reviews Geoffrey Miller’s book Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior. The book makes the case that much of our behavior can be traced to self-advertisement in the pursuit of mates. One quoted section in the review caught my attention. The reviewer titled this paragraph, “On the futility of consumer capitalism:
“We take wondrously adaptive capacities for human self-display — language, intelligence, kindness, creativity, and beauty — and then forget how to use them in making friends, attracting mates and gaining prestige. Instead, we rely on goods and services acquired through education, work and consumption to advertise our personal traits to others. These costly signals are mostly redundant or misleading, so others usually ignore them. They prefer to judge us through natural face-to-face interaction. We think our gilding dazzles them, though we ignore their own gilding when choosing our friends and mates.”
Although Miller is writing about general human behavior, many companies make the same mistakes with marketing. They “forget” how to use basic human skills for attracting customers, relying instead on manufactured, unnatural, flashy means of communication, such as advertising, which are ignored most of the time. Customers, instead, prefer to judge companies through natural face-to-face interactions. Parallel to what Miller says, advertisers think their gilding dazzles customers, though the advertising professionals that produce this gilded communication make their own personal purchase decisions in the same way non-marketing professionals do: not by evaluating advertising, but by evaluating the constellation of more relevant interactions that happen through the normal course of doing business with a company.
Human communication is not about what you present, it is about how you are understood. Why is so much money and effort spent communicating companies’ messages in ways that are so inconsistent with the way we live our non-marketing lives?