I was recently reminded of a very interesting experiment that two cognitive psychologists conducted in 1999. In it, they tasked a group of people with watching people pass basketballs around, counting how many times the people in the white shirts passed to one another. Here, you can try it yourself.
How many times did you count? It doesn’t really matter, because the experiment was about something else. At about 20 seconds into the clip, a person in a gorilla costume walks through the frame. When asked about the video afterwards, a full 50% of the participants said they had not even noticed the gorilla.
This phenomenon is called “inattentional blindness,” and it’s fascinating. Our human brains are really good at focusing on specific things, but that is detrimental to our ability to see anything that we aren't expecting. As I watched the video again, I started thinking about how this relates to marketing, and how marketers can miss big opportunities by focusing on small things.
We use the word “insights” a lot in our buyer persona work, and its important to differentiate “insights” from “information.” Companies can count lots of information about their buyers -- from web metrics to survey data -- but that information doesn’t equate to insight. Insight requires us to listen in a very specific way.
A recent Harvard Business Review story explains how our perceptions impact our ability to be objective. It explains that we color everything we observe based on our moods, attitudes and expectations. Researchers call this confirmation bias. When companies go looking for data that "validates" their conclusions, they can't learn anything new about their buyers.
We built the 5 Rings of Buying Insight to help companies understand that we can’t – and don’t need to – pay attention to every tiny point of data. We wanted to have a framework that says “here are the 5 insights into your buyers' expectations that tell you how to win their business.”
We can count passes all we want – and I’m not saying we should stop – but for buyer personas to make a difference, we need to be careful that our attention on easily counted data doesn't make us miss something as critical as a gorilla in the room.