Even a Shoelace Says Something About the Consumer


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A few months ago, I found myself buying a pair of shoelaces online. When I say ‘found myself’, I literally suddenly became aware of what I was doing. It was a shocking realisation; it had become too much trouble to visit the local shops for a pair of laces, and I was using the Web and its online retail facility to purchase something trivial. I became conscious of the costs involved in buying shoelaces in this way, the storage, the selection, the packaging, the postage costs etc. and probably by way of self-justification I began to think about the true value of shoelaces! Do manufacturers consider this question when designing shoes? Do consumers consider this question when buying?

I began my self-analysis using Helga Dittmar’s model of consumer value, whereby every product or service available in the market offers two types of benefit to the customer; namely functional benefits and symbolic benefits.

Dittmar’s distinction was between the use of a product or service and what the use of that product or service said about the user. The sub-title of her thesis, “To have is to be”, encapsulated her idea that consumers use consumption to help establish their identities. Consumption, (particularly the conspicuous variety), is used by the individual to send messages to others about who they are, what values they hold, what social group they belong to and at the same time making subtle statements about who they are not.

Products and services are thus displayed as symbols. They are masks that present a make-believe-self to others (and eventually perhaps the mask-wearer comes to believing this ‘make’ or deception her/himself).

This ‘celebrity-self’ is as carefully constructed as a stage or screen character. The personality ’emerges’ as a psychological invention in our minds; the result of our automatic implicit decoding of the props and scripts that provide an immediate psychological meaning. The solutions to the subconscious symbolic cues have been provided previously by the media, advertising, branding and PR. This social identity acts like a shield and is as artificial as Jack Vincennes’s on-screen character in Badge of Honour; ‘Badge’ here being synonymous with the Jungian ‘Persona’ or outer part of an individual’s personality.

From this approach, the value of shoelaces is no longer trivial and the characteristics of laces such as texture and colour become important. So perhaps now we can look at the purchase of shoelaces a little differently, not as something trivial, but as a representation of the self.

The point is how often is this mask, this symbolic benefit considered within Experience?

If you were a person who buys your goods or services, what kind of person would you be, is the classic approach to this problem and probably far more important that you realise. If identity is important for shoelaces, then it’s important for servers, cars and cans of coke.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steven Walden
Steven Walden is Director of Customer Experience at leading CX firm TeleTech Consulting (which includes Peppers and Rogers, iKnowtion and RogenSi). Steven is instrumental in efforts to develop the CX practice promoting thought leadership and CX community engagement and IP development. Prior to TeleTech he was Director of CX at Ericsson, developing their Experience Management Centre and also Head of Research specialising in emotion and journey mapping agency side.


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