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How Marketers are Failing to See Everything About Their Customers

Consumer Marketing

As we get to the end of 2013, it is common for many of us to review what we have and haven’t accomplished during the year. If becoming even more customer centric was one of your objectives, let’s review one aspect of it, that of really understanding and getting closer to our customers.

It is good to remember that even if we want to become more customer centric and might have planned it as one of our objectives this year:

“Customer centricity is a journey, not a destination”

It is something we need to keep top-of-mind constantly and continuously look for even more ways to make the customer the heart of the business. Deep customer understanding comes from a multitude of sources of knowledge and information that has been gathered, built up and integrated over time. Nevertheless, the way we go about doing this, can make a huge difference to our chances of success in understanding and pleasing our customers.

There are four ways we can collect and then use information and knowledge about our customers, and all are necessary for the deep understanding that brings customer delight and business success.

#1. Hindsight

How Marketers are Failing to See Everything About Their Customers image Kozzi young man pointing his finger4Despite the ever-increasing flow of real-time information into a company, this is arguably still the most used “sight” in customer understanding today. We record or measure what our customers do; where they bought; how much they consumed; what advertising they saw and when. Unfortunately, despite the possibility technology provides us to record and send this information immediately to businesses, for most organisations, these metrics are based on past performance by the time we get to analyse them.

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Even worse, this is exactly the type of information that we use to estimate how healthy our brand and business is going to be in the future. We assume that the market will stay roughly the same and that our continued efforts will be rewarded with similar, if not greater success. However, in today’s fast-paced world, nothing stays the same for long, especially not the customer.

Examples of hindsight are market shares, media consumption and shopping habits. Whilst brand equity can also be considered hindsight, it has been found that declining image often precedes a sales decline, so could arguable be seen to contain elements of both hindsight and foresight.

#2. Eyesight & Hearsight

How Marketers are Failing to See Everything About Their Customers image image0035This is the qualitative element of the previous “sight”. It helps us to confirm the decisions we take about important metrics to follow, or can deepen our understanding of the information we have already recorded. Management can sometimes feel less comfortable with this type of knowledge if it is not complemented by “solid” quantified information. However, it is a powerful way to more deeply understand our customers’ thoughts and behaviour and to share it with others.

Examples of eyesight include observation and ethnography, listening in to call centres and following or joining in to online social media discussions and chat. In addition, new technologies are expanding this area with additional sources, often using biometric and / or neuroscientific readings. These include retail eye-tracking, webcam emotional facial analysis and online impact algorithms. (If you’re interested in learning more about any of these, or trying them out yourself, I would be happy to discuss them further with you over Skype or a quick call)

#3. Insight

How Marketers are Failing to See Everything About Their Customers image INSIGHT dreamstime 161907914

This is what hindsight and eyesight should ideally be developed into. This suggests that no single piece of research, nor one project, should be expected to deliver insight, at least on its own. Insights come from combining different sources of information and knowledge, into understanding and insight. Until we understand the “why” behind the knowledge we have found, it is unlikely that true insight can be developed.

Depending upon your own definition of an insight, these can include an explanation of the behavioural change sought, or a statement, voiced from the consumer’s perspective, of what their need or issue is and what feelings they are looking to achieve when they solve it.

#4. Foresight

How Marketers are Failing to See Everything About Their Customers image Kozzi walking towards money4Although a business may be successful if it develops insights alone, in an ideal world it should also be considering the future and likely changes to the current situation. This will enable an organisation to be better prepared to take advantage of future opportunities, as well as to plan for possible risks.

For some, going beyond insight to foresight might mean making them feel uncomfortable as they are forced to think about possible scenarios that perhaps they would prefer NOT reflecting upon. And yet it is only by thinking about them and planning for our reactions to such situations, that we can really be best prepared to meet the opportunities and challenges the future might hold.

Now that I have summarised the differences between these four sights, I want to go back to the title of this post, “Out of sight, out of mind; how we understand our customers”. I believe that understanding comes out of these four sights and the integration and making sense of everything coming out of our minds. As technology starts to replace traditional market research information gathering and in some case the reporting too, we should be looking to move our skills’ emphasis from gatherer to sharer of insight.

The Risks of not Opening up to Other Sights

So, which sight are you using more often? As I already mentioned, we need to use all four, but not necessarily in equal proportions. Their use will each time depend upon the situation in which we find ourselves, but working with all four will ensure we try to understand our customers from all possible perspectives.

If you work mainly with hindsight, you may risk a delay in reacting to market changes and new situations, so you need to strengthen your foresight. This can be done by following societal trends and then developing future scenarios to challenge your thinking.

If you work mostly with eyesight / hearsight, perhaps it’s because you feel threatened by the risk of your hypotheses and assumptions being proven wrong by “hard” facts. If this is the case, why not try quantifying some of your observations to see whether or not what has been observed is normal behaviour or merely your perception of reality?

If you work in an organisation that runs a lot of market research projects and draws conclusions and action plans from each one of them individually, it is time to strengthen your insights. (If you don’t have a process for developing insights from information integration, then contact us and let’s discuss how we might support you to develop a proprietary one). Perhaps surprisingly, insight development can actually save you resources, since running an evaluation of what is already known – the frequent first step of insight development – may produce the required answers and avoid the need for further studies.

Finally if you are living mostly in the future, you may be unaware of current opportunities / threats that quantification can indicate. Even when comfortable working with foresight, a business still needs to be managed on a day to day basis and for that, nothing beats a few numbers. Whilst foresight is essential to long-term business growth, the hypotheses must be based upon facts rather than assumptions.

Which sight do you need to strength in 2014? How are you going to do that? Plan to start this coming New Year by taking a critical look at which sight you are currently most comfortable using and then decide to strengthen your other sights. Please share your thoughts with everyone below.

Would you like some help with your own insight development process or information gathering? Then let us help you catalyse your customer centricity; contact us here

This post was inspired by one published on 11th January 2013 in C³Centricity

C³Centricity uses images from Dreamstime.com and Kozzi.com

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