Turn your grainy customer picture into high definition

Your true customer picture may upset the design agency, piss off your marketing guru and make that three-day internal strategy workshop a complete waste of time, writes Amy Motby in this guest post – but that’s great.


Listening to your customers is Marketing 101, right? So why are many organisations planning their marketing campaigns based on out-dated customer profiling and a handful of feedback, rather than on real, comprehensive customer research?

I know how easy it is to find your brand a little out of touch with customer reality. I’ve come across brands with their heads so far up their marketing strategy that they totally fail to take the two ears one mouth approach to customer feedback.

The hard truth is: if you’re not listening to your customers, you can be sure your competitors are.

It’s simple, we need to stick to our customers like white on rice. We need to listen, and we need to act on their opinions. Without honed customer listening skills, your brand is at serious risk of falling into potentially dangerous market pitfalls and of alienating loyal customers with new products or services that don’t meet their needs.

And no – internal feedback isn’t enough. Just because Clive in sales tells you that ‘your product is too expensive’ and that ‘cost is the biggest objection to purchase’, you don’t have to believe him.

Remember: independent customer research rarely lies.


Why brands stop listening

I’ve seen many brands lose their way when it comes to customer relations. The most common reasons include:

  • Scepticism: You don’t believe market research works.
  • Overload: You’ve amassed so much data that you don’t know how to start interpreting it.
  • Investment: You’re up against domineering groups of individuals who’ve invested time and money in a particular marketing idea.
  • Proximity: You’re just too close to your product or service and have forgotten that your customers don’t necessarily have the same level of knowledge or interest.
  • Narrow views: You’ve spent a day on a ‘customer connection program’, talked to two outspoken customers and used this as the basis for your entire campaign.
  • Politics: Your organisation is packed with silos, overlapping roles, differing KPIs and business units, all pulling in different directions. 
  • Poor presentation: Any research you have done has been presented in the ‘death by PowerPoint’ method, which leads to low interest levels.


How to start listening

In all honesty, switching your listening ears on isn’t that difficult. There are a number of ways to quickly and efficiently place your finger firmly on your customer’s collective pulse:

  • Segmentation: Keep your customer profiles up to date and ensure they are attitudinal and capture the customer’s true voice.
  • Discussions: Face to face, over the phone or online. It’s easy enough to schedule interview time with customers in your target groups.
  • Communities: Becoming an active participant in a relevant online community where you can hear the opinions and feelings direct from the horses mouth. These days, communities can be formed instantly to get that quick answer or viewpoint.
  • Shopper safaris: Engaging customers in either a real life or cyber safari is a great way to capture every emotion from shopping list creation to product usage.


Don’t just hear what you want to hear

With any kind of research, you have to be careful you don’t skew the results. Often I see brands setting up research tasks and questions that have little to do with real life situations or offer no tangible customer insights, such as:

  • Please tell me which of these 28 flavours of jam you prefer?
  • Would you describe our brand as aspirational, flexible or inspiring?
  • On a scale of one to 10, how likely would you be to buy our services?


Want to hear a joke about a vacuum? Never mind, it sucks. The truth is that market research carried out in a vacuum is useless. It’s vital to capture the customer’s perspective fully, assessing their thoughts, emotions and actions in as realistic a way as possible.


Turn your grainy customer picture into high definition

If you want your organisation to be truly customer centric, you must combine what you need with continuous learning. Often, you’ll have your hypothesis confirmed and enjoy the reassuring feeling that you’re heading in the right direction.  Sometimes, you’ll be challenged or surprised by problems you’d never thought of and complaints you didn’t realise were an issue.

And yes, occasionally, the true and listened-to voice of your customer will upset the design agency, piss off your marketing guru and make that three-day internal strategy workshop a complete waste of time.

But wouldn’t you rather know that your product is a giant flop before, rather than after, the million-dollar launch? 


Amy Motby is a research consultant at Play Market Research. She’s worked with brands to help them reconnect with their customers for over 12 years. Contact her at amy@playmr.com.au.