Stretch Your Marketing Mind By People Watching


In environmental psychology, you learn people like to manipulate their surroundings.

From choosing how your dwelling looks, to moving chairs in a public space one inch before you sit down. People firmly believe they're in control and make their own decisions.

Watching the behavior of humans, and how they interact and manipulate their environments – will help you expand your thinking on the complex layers of individuals, and widen your view on marketing to people. As a small business owner, you know marketing to the right people is crucial to your revenue. As you continue to educate yourself in marketing and understanding people, your approach towards illustrating advertisements, tailoring pain points, and how you frame stories for your customers will evolve.

Since you’re a small business owner, you’re probably a people watcher too, whether you realize it or not.

As a child, I was interested in people watching. At the mall or at a park, I would grab a seat on a bench and watch. In college, I would sit in lecture halls with 400 students, and if the professor wasn’t appealing to me, I would look around the room, and start critically analyzing who classmates were and making assumptions based on their fashion choices and mannerisms. Then in my early 20’s, I would frequent metal shows in Chicago, and typically found myself more interested in watching the headbangers in mosh-pits than the bands.

Three decades later, I still people watch today, and you likely do this as well. When you walk into a store, restaurant or business do you immediately start looking at the customers? Do you then start to decode how the business operates and look for opportunities? This is fairly normal with entrepreneurial mindsets. Go-getters observe the situation, zero-in on details, and see areas that are ignored or that need improvement.

I Watch People in My Yoga Class

I know that sounds a tad voyeuristic, but breathe with me for a moment. Three times a week, I drive over to the gym and spend an hour stretching out my desk muscles and sweating profusely. I get there 15 minutes early to grab a spot before the crowd rushes in, and to do one of my favorite things, people watch.

People watching is just marketing research. Figuring out human behavior and then finding a way to use that to your advantage to sell. I practice this during my weekly yoga classes. I look at the men and women in the dim room, ranging in age, race, religion, financial status and sexual orientation. It’s a melting pot of people, who would likely struggle to be friends – but come together on common ground three times a week, because we all see yoga as a path to some result.

Yoga is One Call to Action, After Another

During class, the instructor tells a room full of adults what to do right now. It’s sixty minutes of Simon Says, telling you to ignore that and focus on this. The instructor tells us to get in a pose, then hold it as long as they say. For that hour, everyone in the class is letting an authority figure manipulate their bodies, minds and attention. Fundamentally, the instructor is a marketing guru telling us exactly what to do, and we willingly obey and pay. This is even more interesting, because we are believe we are there under our own terms and freewill. Nobody is obligated to go to yoga, and everyone has their personal reasons for participating.

For me, it’s about fixing my chronically tight back and reducing anxiety. From my observations and assumptions, there’s a handful of girls who use this time as a religious practice and a few of them are there to lose weight. There’s a woman who is a veteran and in the reserves, who uses yoga as part of her ongoing training. There’s two middle-aged couples who use this time as a double-date night. There’s a man who always takes off his shirt and spends time flexing in the mirror. Once a week a bodybuilder joins the class, wearing his sponsored clothing. There’s 3 wealthy housewives who ironically simply want to get out of the house. And there’s one older construction worker, a pregnant lady and a dozen more unique individuals.

Watching the Big Themes in an Eclectic Group

Every week as I contort my body into awkward positions, I observe each of these individuals and brainstorm what I could sell to them based on their appearances and mannerisms. Some people wear luxury yoga clothes, some wear shirts that look ragged. Some people (like me) wear the same outfit every class. Some people have their hair tied-up in a bun, and others have their hair down and styled. Some people bring their own yoga mats, some use the free ones at the gym. Some people show up early, some are always late. Some people are foreign, some don’t even speak English, some work in offices, some work in manual labor. Some leave before savasana (end of class) and some stay ten minutes afterwards to talk or do crunches.

In this small room of people, there’s a whirlwind of actions going on. From physical capabilities performing the poses, to how people circulate through the room, there’s a long list of general traits, themes and data I can start to digest, before I start putting individuals under a microscope.

Small Details + Testing = Labels

From watching the behaviors of individuals, I can start to make assumptions about their attitudes and egos. I watch them to start to understand who they are and put myself on their mat. Then I test them, and then I start putting labels to their identity, and think about what I could sell to them and how I would approach the sale. Here’s 4 fellow classmates I’m actively captivated by.

The Mat Mover

One guy, will walk into the room and move other people’s yoga mat over a few inches so he can have a little more room. From this I assume this guy is comfortable taking control of his space, and has little thought about if he should ask someone to please move over. Instead he manipulates the situation and will actually touch other people’s property, versus waiting a few moments to interact with the person who owns the mat. I’m curious if he is scared of the possible conversation of asking someone to do something for his benefit. Or if he views himself as superior and can ignore common courtesy.

I’ve tested this mat mover, by putting my mat next to his and then walking away. After I was a across the room, he leaned over and nudged my mat a couple inches, making it further away from him. This is the exact scenario highlighted in environmental psychology – when you move a chair before you sit in it. But with this individual he is moving other people’s chair after they’ve already moved it where they wanted. Through my own assumptions, I’ve labeled him as a manipulator, territorial, bold and pushy.

The Clockwork Crybabies

There’s two women who show up only to the Thursday class. One is in her early 30’s, she is thin and muscular. The other women is in her 40’s and heavy-set. They sit next each other, and whisper back and forth during class. Then after students bow and say namaste, they start complaining about how the class wasn’t hard enough, and how they used to lose more weight when they did yoga with a different instructor at a different gym. There hasn’t been a Thursday class I attended, I didn’t hear these crybabies whine about the same exact thing.

From this, I assume these individuals are the type of people who will always find the negative, and complain about something, yet take zero action to change it. They have not discovered the practical philosophy of Stoicism. These are the type of people, who sit in traffic everyday, and are still shocked that there’s traffic on the same the same time...everyday! They refuse to take action to fix the problem with the situation, themselves or to simply realize their cycle of complaining about the same thing as being absurd.

Thankfully, they have done my test for me, and continue to complain. With this knowledge, I’ve labeled them as negative, predictable, unsatisfied, insane and critical.

The Shirtless

The guy who never wears a shirt, always sits in the same spot of the room, right in-front of the mirror. After I noticed he sat there during every class, admiring himself, I unrolled my yoga mat in his favorite spot. I assumed he would simply sit next to me, still in front of the mirror, just a few feet down from his regular location.

When he showed up, he asked me to move over because that was his spot. I said no problem, and moved across the room, far away from his scary behavior. I realized he values routine, and believes he has ownership of a few square feet of a yoga room during 6 to 7pm, three days a week. I wish I would've taken the test further, and told him no.

I’m curious if he would of become confrontational, manipulative or accepted his favorite spot was taken and sat down next to me? But with my knowledge, I’ve labeled him as a bully, dominant, territorial, crazy, powerful and controlling.

So, what’s the point of people watching?

It’s to start thinking about making sales. Yoga is already an established industry. Selling yoga participants literature, clothing, mats, retreats, health foods and smoothie makers would be fairly easy. But with my studying of these individuals, what could I sell to them outside of this environment? The fact that I’ve taken time to do some independent homework and make my own assumptions, opinions and analysis of these individuals – what would be a way I could sell to either the Mat Mover, Crybabies or Shirtless Guy?

Take Action, Go People Watch and Test Them Yourself

I do believe this exercise has value, in the fact that it will push you outside of your comfort zone and force you to think deeper about people and how they behave. I invite you to go visit your favorite cafe, gym, park or simply watch people on the subway or on your next flight. Start observing and think about the people you see. Take some notes, draw some doodles and start asking yourself questions about each person and make assumptions. It’s best if you can go to a place repeatedly to see if behavior forms into patterns.

Once you get comfortable analyzing people, go visit a place that is similar to your business if you can. For example, if you own a retail shop, visit other shops and watch customers. If you have a professional office, visit other offices and see how individuals behave in waiting or conference rooms. Brainstorm ways you can visit relevant places and simply observe consumer behavior.

Don’t judge yourself for any label you come up with, the purpose of this exercise is to help you start expanding your thought patterns on human behavior, consumers and why people act the way they do. As a small business owner, you’re going to meet an eclectic group of people, and if you want to sell to them, you have start getting a feeling for who they are, and build an instinct on how to sell and benefit each customer’s specific needs.

There’s a great podcast episode from The Fizzle Show that aired sometime around 2013 or 2014 that I still think about today. It’s about how high-end hospitality caters to each unique customer’s need and situation. I would highly recommend you take a listen, the link is below.

Chris Brock