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Customer Insights – You CAN’T Win Without Them

Many claim that digital marketing has fundamentally changed branding and marketing strategy.  The premise is that messages can be delivered at lightning speed to more and more narrowly defined target segments at a given time and place; therefore, branding and marketing strategy must radically change to account for this.

We disagree.  What good is all of this speed and accuracy if you’re not delivering the right message, meaning one that will lead to the desired behavior change among your target audience?  This is where the digital world struggles to align with the fundamentals of marketing.

Great messaging strategy, driven by the right brand strategy, is derived from uncovering deep customer insights that allow you to communicate meaningful and differentiated rational benefits to and develop an emotional connection with your customers.  Many marketers (yes, we’re especially talking about small and medium sized business) don’t want to do the heavy lifting (aka, customer research) to truly understand their customer’s attitudes and behaviors towards their brands, their competition and/or their categories.

Unfortunately, many marketers are hoodwinked by digital agency gurus who say “we can A/B test our way into the optimal messaging strategy”.  Now, don’t get us wrong…there is an important role for A/B testing on your website, landing pages, e-mails, direct mail or in any other interactive or direct response channel; but, this approach in no way should replace the foundational work of discovering meaningful customer insights. And that comes from asking the right questions of your customers vs. acting on hunches.

Customer Insights Defined

We tend to break customer insights into two forms:

  • Attitudinal – These are insights based on what customers believe or desire about your brand and/or about the category. For example, when I was the CMO at Proflowers.com, it was important for us to know if our customers valued us (or the category) because they could now buy flowers on-line or because they believed we could deliver a fresher longer lasting flower vs. our competition.  One could imagine the answer to this question would lead to a very different messaging strategy.
  • Behavioral – These are insights based on how customers behave. For example, for a recent e-commerce client we learned that if a new customer made their 2nd purchase within 90 days of their initial purchase, they were 70% more likely to be a loyal long-term customer.  And if their first purchase was within a specific product category, they were even more likely to become a long-term customer.  You don’t think this insight helped drive post-first purchase marketing and messaging strategies?

Insights Conundrum

Ideally, your brand communication strategy is based on both attitudinal and behavioral customer insights, as it’s equally important to understand both WHAT your customers are doing and WHY they’re doing it.  But as with any “soft science”, there are a few catches; the most important of which is that customers sometimes don’t behave in ways that are consistent with their beliefs or attitudes.  Or at least with the beliefs and attitudes they’re willing to tell you in research.  The most prominent recent disconnect being the plethora of Donald Trump voters who, for whatever reason, did not want to admit their true voting intentions to pollsters.

So why does this happen?  Well, in some cases the customer (or voter) is either embarrassed or may feel they will be negatively judged if they tell you what they really believe.  So, they just tell you what they think you want to hear.  In other cases, there may be such unfamiliarity with a product or a new technology is moving so quickly that its hard for customer attitudes to keep up (e.g., one could imagine consumers might have a hard time articulating the benefits or value of a driver-less car, as they may not be able to envision how it would fit into their lives at this point in time).  Finally, their behavior may be influenced by an unconscious bias and contrary to what they actually believe to be their values.

Getting to the Right Insights

So, what’s one to do?  How do you separate fact from fiction when it comes to customer insights, particularly on the attitudinal side?  First, we recommend you work with an experienced marketer or marketing researcher who will help you identify the best type of research to conduct and asks questions in a way that can identify contradictions or “watch outs” in a customer’s response.  When a contradiction exists, a skilled researcher can force choices that may help you get to the correct or best answer.

However, before you let a customer insight drive a significant change in your overall brand communication strategy, this is where A/B testing and other in-market testing methodologies can help you determine which message is going to best drive the desired behavior.

So, what customer insights have you uncovered about your brand, and how has it influenced your communication strategy and/or marketing plan?  Let us know if you need help uncovering any of these insights for your business!

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