Everyday Objects as Insight

22Dec08

In today’s Chicago Tribune, an ode to the bookmark. Julia Keller, who wrote this article, perfectly articulates the importance all the small stuff we normally take for granted in life.

And yet as ordinary and everyday as a bookmark can be, there is also something thrillingly intimate about what it ultimately represents: the progress of your individual journey through a book, which equates to the progress of your thoughts. You can share many things with a spouse or partner, but even if you’re reading the same book, you can’t share a bookmark; one’s specific place in a book is unique to the reader.

I’ve always been fascinated by utilitarian-yet-personal objects like a keyring – or bookmark, for that matter. You can tell a lot about someone by what they carry with them everyday. Each key, bauble, doodad and trinket tells a story, opens a door or represents a memory. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, a sparse keychain holding just the necessities, says something else entirely.

Perhaps as marketers, we should take a deeper look into our consumers in a more unconventional way. Personal objects and mannerisms can (and do!) tell more about their lifestyles and yield better psychographic information than if we were to just ask them to describe a day in the life. My sister, for example, is always searching for great deals, and when you look at her keyring, she’s got every frequent shopper card known to mankind. My best friend, on the other hand, is a mother of three young boys and doesn’t have the time or interest to care about saving money, and you’ve probably guessed it by now, the only thing on her ring is the car key and single house key.

Maybe this wouldn’t work in every situation, but it’s another way to look at the world. And it keeps the ongoing quest of useful consumer research fresh. With that thought, I’ll leave you with another quote from Keller’s article.

A bookmark is a limit: This is how far you’ve come. But a bookmark is also a horizon: I wonder what’s coming next? A bookmark, then, is both anvil and kite. It saves your place, keeping you tethered right where you are, but at the same time, it keeps tugging at you too. It keeps urging you to rise up and keep going. One more page. One more chapter.

A bookmark, then, is like a sliver of hope. It’s all about where you are right now, and where you might be tomorrow.

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One Response to “Everyday Objects as Insight”

  1. I’ve long been fascinated by the ways we imbue otherwise ordinary things with meaning. We often take for granted the objects that mean the most to us (because of their associations with people and events). My recent documentary film OBJECTS AND MEMORY was about how we preserve the past and speak to the future by using meaningful physical things. The film, which began by following curators in the aftermath of 9/11, has been PBS’s national prime time special in commemoration of the seventh anniversary of 9/11. (More information is at http://www.objectsandmemory.org and DVDs can be obtained by emailing info@objectsandmemory.org)

    The current economic crisis has encouraged many people to rethink what’s important to them, what they value most: the irreplaceable things that resonate with meaning.


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