The ’poetry’ of Dementia helps us better understand consumer behaviour

’Poetizing’ allows us to better understand how consumers think and d

’Poetizing’ allows us to better understand how consumers think and during life transformations

The philosophy of poetry, or ’poetizing’, allows us to challenge traditional ways of understanding how consumers think and behave during life transformations, a new study reveals.

Consumer behaviour analysis usually focuses on the identities that people aspire to, with marketing strategists using these profiles to plan engagement with consumers likely to be interested in their products and services.

’Poetizing’ sheds new light on how heart-breaking times - such as incurable illnesses, addiction, loss or bereavement - result in consumers being owned by identities rather than them working towards achieving a particular identity project.

Published in Marketing Theory, the study of memoirs by authors living with Alzheimer’s shows how the illness makes them feel the intense power of an unresolvable force in their daily lives - imposing an identity upon them.

Study author Dr Pilar Rojas-Gaviria , Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Birmingham, comments: "The idea that consumers can choose who they want to be and apply themselves to achieving this identity has helped consumer researchers make sense of how consumers think and behave.

"Poetizing helps us understand consumers’ vulnerability when possessed by identities not of our choice - giving marketers a critical understanding of how people in unavoidable, life-changing situations project their identities in creation towards unexpected discoveries.

"Reading life stories as poetic projections allow us to see how life transformation, such as the experience of living with an illness, have evolved with discoveries in the medical field, as new technologies emerge, or communities of patients come together."

Dr Rojas-Gaviria’s study sets out three key elements of poetizing:

  • ’Poetic sweats’ - our efforts to understand life during moments of change, helping us to live with the questions that life has thrown at us;
  • ’Poetic companions’ - material artefacts that enable us to articulate what is happening to us; and
  • ’Poetic projection’ - a process of self-discovery where our identity in creation emerges.

’Reading’ such experiences can help marketers to understand consumption as part of a larger, emerging life experience and detach it from the dominant interpretation that consumers always hold desired identities. The poetizing lens offers us plasticity to understand consumers’ identity in creation.

"If we think about Dementia in the UK today, an exciting example of this comes from recent movements such as Dementia Enquirers and Dementia Diaries," explains Dr Rojas-Gaviria. "These initiatives amplify the voices of those living with Dementia and demonstrate that even if we sometimes do not have control of everything that happens to us, we can still have a highly inspirational and fulfilling life.

"And probably most important, we can still lead social transformation. The understanding that our vulnerabilities do not make us less capable of projecting alternatives for ourselves and our loved ones is at the core of ’poetizing’."

Poetizing puts us better positioned to understand less represented consumers, such as those living in non-western contexts and cultures. This is the case because the researcher or the marketer avoids adopting a more dictatorial attitude to essentialize consumers with a particular desired identity label. This humbler attitude has the potential to allow researchers, policymakers and consumers to work collaboratively to nourish more enabling contexts orienting to life discovery.

"Although Alzheimer’s is an extreme case of identity possession, life accidents and losses are more present in daily life than we think," adds Dr Rojas-Gaviria. "Every day people drive for the last time, fail at school, don’t get to see a close friend anymore or are separated from relatives. Life losses come unexpectedly, and even when we know we are about to lose something or someone we cherish and love, we never know the specific shape of our losses."

Poetry in marketing has proven to be an effective research method to challenge conventional thinking in areas such as branding. It has helped marketers understand markets and consumers - engaging in conversations that capture how people consume products and services.

"Poetizing via the philosophy of poetry complements this set of resources, acknowledging that life accidentality is at the core of our humanity; the philosophies of poetry and the arts, in general, have much more to offer if we let them," comments Dr Rojas-Gaviria.


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