Photo by Marcus Loke on Unsplash

The lost art of customer obsession

How our life projects and current concerns impact our purchase decision

2 min readJan 14, 2022


I feel that after years of targeted advertising and one-click audience creation, we’ve lost the appreciation for hands-on consumer research.

Do you feel the same?

Every decision we make is a trade-off.

We want to have things and behave in ways that help us realise our values and live our ideal selves.

But when it comes to buying stuff, our long-held values can be easily swayed by how much money, time, or energy can we spend on realising the benefit.

It’s not that we’re quick to ditch our long-held values.

No. Instead, we bend and modify the most flexible values to fit neatly with our most urgent needs and long held values.

Our life projects, current concerns, and feature preferences all play an essential role in deciding how to spend our time, energy, and money.

Take Erik, for example.

Erik likes to eat local, seasonal foods, believes in the power of upcycling and always tries to be an informed, environmentally responsible consumer.

Erik doesn’t fall for flashy new features and sticks to his old phone while the rest of the world has moved on to the latest iPhone.

His grandfather was a carpenter and spending summer vacations pottering around the workshop, Erik learned to appreciate the craftsmanship of handmade furniture.

When Erik finally moved to a new city for school, he found that it was time to buy a new desk for his matchbox-sized student apartment.

But every desk he finds online is either too big, too banged up or too IKEA.

Finally, he finds the perfect desk at the local recycling centre — hardwood, ornate, character for days, and handmade.

It checked all the boxes except one. Price.

At 500€ it was well over his budget. Erik was devastated.

After spending far more time furnishing a student apartment than anyone ever should, Erik purchased a small, non-descript, factory-made desk from a local furniture store.

It cost him 200€, and it came in birch white.

Erik valued fine craftsmanship and avoiding waste.

Yet, his current life project (graduating school), current concerns (living on a limited budget), and feature preference (sturdy but cheap) had just as much, if not more, influence on his final decision.

Let’s go beyond made-up buyer personas and put some real work into understanding your customers as people.

People who have long term life projects like becoming a successful doctor or a good father. Understand their current concerns — things that dominate their everyday to-do lists and figure out what they can’t do today for which they need a solution.

None of this is possible if you rely on generic audience segments and copy-paste ad copy.

Go out there and talk to your customers.