If you have an interest in social science, you’ll have heard of the Dunbar Number - the number of genuine social connections the average human can maintain. For anyone studying how influence and Information spreads in society, the Dunbar Number (which is 150) is a crucial concept.
Now a new study has identified a different but potentially just as critical number. But this one has to do with places, not people. Researchers from City University London studied large scale location and movement data to model the places their subjects went to most regularly.
What they found was remarkable. They found that whoever they studied, individuals had a repertoire of familiar places they visited often. And no matter what age or background their subjects were, the number of places in this repertoire topped out at 25.
The implication is that we all have a location library of around 25 places we visit regularly. We can add locations to our repertoire, but they come at the expense of others. If we start going to a new coffee shop or pub, for instance, it’s likely that one of our existing regular locations will quietly drop off our radar.
So how can marketers make use of this information? It’s a trick question: they already are. It’s unlikely the revelation of this “magic number” will come as a surprise to the phone companies, service providers and app makers who already use location data. But other groups could find it a useful rule of thumb - it might help in building models of out-of-home advertising reach, for instance.
More generally, it underlines one of the core truths of human behaviour: we truly are “creatures of habit”. Dunbar proved it for social connections; the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute proved it for brands; and now these researchers have proved it for locations. Our minds work by unconsciously constructing repertoires of options which we then largely stick with. Getting into these repertoires is a key goal for marketers.
The good news is, these repertoires aren’t fixed. People add places to their list of 25 all the time - it’s just that this comes, consciously or not, at the expense of other places. Our minds are a bit like a multi-story car park with limited spaces. It’s a similar idea to the psychology that underpins our Fluent Innovation philosophy - “80% familiar; 20% new” - the concept that people are happiest with a small amount of novelty in a context that either is, or feels, familiar already. In innovation, location, and everything else, we tend to keep to the road more travelled.
To read more about this research, please take a look at John Stevenson's article here