I have already confessed, via Facebook, that I like Leonard Cohen. Has the world changed as a result? In some ways it has. Leonard Cohen (in his corporate incarnation) has started to “reach out” to me via my Facebook news stream. That’s nice for both of us. But it has its limitations.
For one thing, as a consumer my desire for Leonard Cohen is currently in a state of satiation. There are probably sound evolutionary reasons for this. After a really big Cohen-out the healthy option is to consume something not quite so doomy.
Leonard Cohen is, in some ways, like my new dishwasher. Not that my new dishwasher is in any way doomy. It is polite and cheerful (in a low-key kind of way). But, having just bought a very nice dishwasher, which I hope will live a long and productive life, my readiness for buying another dishwasher is now at an all-time life-time ebb. I am probably somewhat receptive to buying another different but similar type of appliance from the same manufacturer, should the need arise. But I really do not want another dishwasher. Same goes for Leonard Cohen. My need for another product of the same type from the same manufacturer won’t re-assert itself any time soon.
So, although it would seem reasonable, as a first pass, that the similarity between two objects of my consumer lust would be a really great rule to use when cross-marketing to me, it ain’t necessarily so. After all, what is more similar to Leonard Cohen than Leonard Cohen? I do like Leonard Cohen, but I don’t want any right now. Not even if he comes with fries.
What’s the moral? Basically, it’s that all gets quite complicated when you look at things as they really are. (The winners of the Netflix Prize have already figured this out.)
There are other factors about the situation that can be much more powerful influences on my consumer preferences and behaviour than simple similarity. Drive strength varies with satiation. Sometimes what you need is a complement (or an antidote…), not a substitute. Semantic distance may be best assessed not with a simple scalar metric, but by identifying which attributes or dimensions are relevant for the comparison, given the context.
So, even Leonard Cohen isn’t always a perfect predictor of Leonard Cohen. But maybe he can sell me and my friends something else.