I’m sure we’ve all heard the term ‘customer first’ or ‘customer centric’. It’s something that gets bounced around in board meetings, appears on brand strategies and creative briefs and has generally become part of popular marketing vernacular. But how many of our brands and businesses truly are customer focused? While there’re plenty of brands that are doing it right, I think there are a few steps we can all take to ensure that we’re focusing on the right things i.e. our customers.
As advertisers and marketers, we know that the most solid and effective brand strategies and creative campaigns are informed by human insight and yet in my experience, not many brands are investing in the kind of research that really gets under the skin of our customers and seeks to understand what drives them, what keeps them up at night and why they do the things they do.
While dated some 60 odd years, this quote by famous adman and insights pioneer William Bernbach I think says it all.
“At the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action, even though his language so often can camouflage what really motivates him.”
As advertisers and marketers, we know that the most solid and effective brand strategies and creative campaigns are informed by human insight and yet in my experience, not many brands are investing in the kind of research that really gets under the skin of our customers and seeks to understand what drives them, what keeps them up at night and why they do the things they do. While I see quite a few clients investing in quantitative research – and don’t get me wrong, quant definitely has its place, what it doesn’t do is get into the deeper psychology of human behaviour and seek to understand the why.
It’s important to note then when I talk about qual I’m not just talking about running a bunch of focus groups. While they are a great way to open conversations with people about certain topics (and are relatively inexpensive to run), ethnographic studies provide a much more in-depth look at how people are actually behaving, using different products and services and interacting with brands - in the real world.
So – what is the real value of doing qual and why should brands invest in it? Here’s my 2 cents.
1. You are probably not your target audience.
As much as we like to think we can put ourselves in other people’s shoes and think like them, the reality is we all carry our own biases and prejudices that we’re not always aware of. Until we get out in the real world and talk to the people who are actually consuming our products and services, all we’re left with are our own opinions.
2. We can solve real customer problems.
Main grocery buyer aged 25-55. Financial advisors working in the banking sector. Parents that are time poor.
People aren’t boring. So let’s not make our target audience boring. Let’s take the time to understand them. Find out what they like, what they want, what makes them do things or choose things. While big data (quantitative research) might give us some broad outlines of what motivates people, qualitative research gives us all the rich colour that we require in order to create effective work. It helps us really get under the skin of our customers and understand what attitudes they have towards different topics, what keeps them up at night and ultimately how we as a business can help them.
3. Insights tell us why.
Ahhh - the why! While we can make certain observations from quant or things like trend reports which look at cultural insights at a macro scale, qualitative research helps us understand why people think and do certain things.
A few examples to demonstrate what I mean taken from this Medium article.
Observation: People tend to buy milk when they need it or run out.
Insight (the why): It doesn’t dawn on them beforehand how bad it is to be out of milk when you need it most.
Idea: Got Milk? (So you will buy it in advance of needing it, increasing purchase and consumption.)
Observation: Women say they don’t like most beauty product ads.
Insight (the why): Because they portray women who do not look like 95 percent of women.
Idea: Dove Real Beauty
4. We can test different hypotheses and ideas.
We can also use qual to confirm or test a hunch, settle an internal debate or litmus test a strategy or creative idea that we might be developing for our brand. But be careful – not everyone is a creative director.
While I think customer research can be great for uncovering insights, I think it’s important to take customer feedback with a grain of salt. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the famous Henry Ford quote (although there is some contention as to whether he actually said this);
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
While people can easily describe a problem they're having — in this case, wanting to get somewhere faster, they are not necessarily going to come up with the best solution. So let’s leave the creativity to the creatives and use qualitative research to really nail the who and more importantly - the why.
Image credit: @single_lens_reflex