A Taxi Driver Allegory

Like many busy researchers, I spend a fair amount of time either going to or coming from the airport. And, because I live in a part of Chicago where taxis don’t roam frequently, I have my regular “guy” who picks me up. I’ll call him Ted to protect his identity.

When I haven’t seen Ted in a while, our typical exchange goes like this:

Ted: “Did you enjoy your time off?” 

Martha: “Well, I was working, just not traveling.”

And if I tell him after a trip that I won’t see him for a few weeks, a typical exchange goes like this:

Ted: “Enjoy your time off.”

Martha: “Well, I’ll still be working, just not traveling.”

This has been going on for years.

Ted’s view of me is contained in the moments of time where his life overlaps with mine. My life is relevant to him only in those moments and therefore he over-estimates the relative importance of them in the broader scheme of my life. It’s as though he assumes the main activity of my life is to get on a plane and then come home a few days later. 

This, of course, is not true. Surrounding each and every trip to and from the airport is a life filled with stress, delight and occasional chaos: deadlines, dishes, terrible eyesight, bottles of wine, a husband, children, co-workers, extended family. You know what I mean. Your life is like that too, as is Ted’s for that matter!

I think of this allegory whenever we, or our clients, get too myopic about the role individual products, services, or brands play in people’s lives. When we assume the solution we’re creating and spending all our waking hours thinking about will somehow have the same centrality to the person we’re creating it for, we’ve lost our way.

Our work gets interesting when we can open up and understand how products, services, or brands play a role in people’s lives without notice. We can think about enhancing current routines, or how a person’s brand loyalty may play a role in helping them stay engaged or excited. When we can shape a new experience that can change perception—this is the most rewarding work.

So, the next time you’re looking at a segmentation that’s implying a consumer’s shampoo choice is what gets them up in the morning and keeps them energized throughout the day, remember the allegory of the taxi driver. And don’t forget to buckle up!