Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Tyranny of the Average

It feels somewhat stupid to write a post about the Tyranny of the Average - it's been done so many times before. What is a mean? When should you use it? What is a median? How does it differ?

Essentially, it boils down to simply being aware that descriptive statistics aren't 'truths'. Your average customer doesn't really exist, not in any meaningful or useful way. You can't market or sell to the 'average' mindset.

Just like we use approximations (kind of, tallish, largish, shortish) in everyday language to avoid the overhead exactness warrants, we use averages as placeholders for complexity - at least we should.

What inevitably happens is these averages take on a life of their own. Their usefulness as a proxy is lost and we breath life into them. Suddenly our average customer is visiting us once a month, she is spending the average amount, buying the average number of goods and leaving feeling averagely satisfied.

All wrong of course. She doesn't really exist. We may as well be talking about the average tooth fairy.

Forget the 'average'. Instead, find out what your customers have in common, if it's meaningful, and why? Think about groups of common reasons they use your product or service. Common amounts they spend on it. Common feelings towards your brand. Common histories. Common stories.

'Common' might make for a more complex landscape, but at least it's real.

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