Marketing More Than Features: Windows to the Soul

We spend an awful lot of time marketing features to individuals; neat little segments that correspond to the demographic data we glean from surveys and similar devices.  We talk about features, function and material benefits. The catch is that people work, live and think in terms of a socio-cultural system. That means they are frequently doing more than buying things and that the reasons for their choices (and the marketing they respond to) are more complex than what the numbers tell us.  As an example, look at how we frequently market something as seemingly functioanl as windows.The window is more than glass.  It holds symbolic meaning on numerous levels and tells us a great deal about a culture, a time frame, the nature of a place, etc.  It is a liminal juncture that serves as both gateway between the inside and the outside world. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent at this juncture. These can range from borders at the entry to a house to airports or hotels, which people pass through but do not live in. The window is a transparent border and signifies a powerful transition between the inside and the outside world.  The window signifies the border between Place and Space.

Not surprisingly, there seems to be a great deal of discussion around curtains, blinds and the ways by which we frame our windows. In some cases these mechanisms are primarily functional, serving to block out interaction with the outside world and limit the ability to look into the closed space of the home.  They serve to cut off interaction.  In other instances they define the environment, framing the outside world in an ornate display that turns it almost into an abstraction. The frame signals that what is going on outside is beyond the bounds of the lived experience.  It also signifies that the window is something special, something with meaning and power, to the person or people within the home.

There is a powerful concept in Japan around the idea of uchi and soto. The basic concept revolves around dividing people into in-groups and out-groups. When speaking with someone from an out-group, the out-group must be honored, and the in-group humbled. This is achieved with special features of the Japanese language, which conjugates verbs based on both tense and politeness.  One of the complexities of the uchi-soto relationship lies in the fact that groups are not static; they may overlap and change over time and according to situation. Obviously, the concept applies to space, place and the transitions between the two.  The transitions are usually visibly marked in some way to signal that the dynamic of an interaction is about to change. The window works on a similar principle.

So what does this mean for someone designing or marketing windows, curtains, blinds, etc.? It means that the window is more than a series of feature and price points. It means that people endow windows with special meaning and that the things we use to frame them and reflect the cultural lives and realities of the people using them, and that changes the message entirely.  How does the window fit into the concept of “home?” What are the various meanings of “home” and how do you design or market to those?  As with so many things, it isn’t about the product, it’s about where the product fits into a person’s life.  Speak to those things and you’ve changed the nature of the conversation between the product, the brand and the people involved in the buying decision.

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