September 30, 2020

Understanding the customer? You must be joking!

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One of the most often and glibbest used phrases in marketing (and other circles!) is that the key to success is ‘understanding the customer’ (see the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour courses, for example). But what do we mean by that exactly? Let me elaborate.

I was at a very interesting and enlightening marketing conference the other day where a panel of excellent expert speakers regaled us with the ‘power of the digital age’. There are so many digital data-gathering and analytical tools out there that I am almost scared to even open my computer lid for fear of leaving a ‘footprint’ which can be sifted, married to a myriad of databases and analysed a thousand times so that some new marketing message can be beamed back to me via my smartphone or tablet.

Even worse, every time I buy a product these days, I am wondering what ‘hidden’ or overt listening device is cunningly hidden within it. But, is this terribly sophisticated stuff really aiding ‘understanding the customer’ or merely ‘understanding customer behaviour’ and just at that specific moment in time?

I could tell you, at a flick of my social media analytical software, who a consumer is seeking advice from prior to purchase and even what the tenor of the conversation is, and that is a gold mine in itself; BUT does it tell me why the consumer is seeking advice? Is the consumer actually suffering from a serious bout of insecurity, requiring confirmation from a trusted friend or relative?

It seems that we know an awful lot about a customer’s behaviour but could we be missing a massive trick on actually understanding the feelings and sentiments of the customer and what is behind that behaviour? And, more importantly, if we could do that, how would we know these expressed feelings and sentiments are authentic?

Perhaps, the lack of ability to really understand the customer can explain why the traditional marketing segmentation bases like socio-demographics, product usage, global equivalent segments etc. are being made even more rapidly redundant and giving way to more truly customer-understanding segmentation techniques like generation analysis.