Who's the boss? Why the customer's insights rule.

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Try searching for the words "customer insights" or "personas" and you will find a lot of results from thought leaders in the marketing world telling you what you already know; "The customer is always right." You know this, but how do you know they're right? Have you spent actual time spent observing, researching, asking more questions? Three-quarters of marketers say they know what their customers want, but only 34% have actually taken the time to ask them, according to a recent study by Pivot. That means approximately two-thirds of marketers are just going with their gut.

Write this down on a sticky note and put it on your desk to remind you; the customer is the boss. The buying power these days is extremely complex. Put a Baby Boomer, a GenXer, a GenYer, and a Millennial in your store and your whole marketing strategy could be tossed out the window if you haven't spent any time understanding why these people are in your store in the first place.

You may think you know what customer insights are. But a lot has changed since Marketing 101. Being haphazard in what little time you spend here in your marketing plan will not suffice. Shift from mass marketing to personalized marketing. You have to go beyond raw data and research. You have to go deeper. 


But why are customer insights important? And how do you actually begin to collect them? Here are 3 reasons 'why' you need customer insights.


1. Customer insights save you time and money. 
The availability of digital technology is giving your customers access to an incredible amount of product information. Customers are regularly reviewing this information before they actually visit or make a purchase. Analyzing their buying behavior, and getting ahead of the curve can only save you time and money on the back end adjusting your original plan. 

2. Customer's preferences can change in a blink of an eye. 
One day your customer might be single with disposable income with you finding yourself spending ample amounts of time taking for granted that they would spend those dollars on your product until next thing you know they're married with a kid on the way and your product has become irrelevant to them. If you spent time getting to know the customer and anticipating their needs, you would have already created a new product that met their changing needs. 

3. Do it now or risk losing to your competitors.
Stop saying you'll get around to it because if you're not paying attention, your competitor is. Guaranteed. The biggest threat to your business isn't necessarily the guy down the street that sells the same thing -- it's indifference.


OK, so now you're a believer. Customer insights are essential. 


But 'how' do you obtain these insights? Through recurring focus groups, or interactions with your customers? It doesn't have to be that complicated. Here are five things you can use to gain customer insights.


1. Actively seek out customer insights.
These insights should represent both those of the satisfied and unsatisfied customer. This is not that hard to do if you have built the right infrastructure around it. Allow your customer to leave reviews on your products. Read through your social media activity --  this is where the extremists will let the world know what they think about you. Loyalty cards are a huge help as well. 

2. Connect personally with the customer.
Bring them into the decision making process. While customer focus groups and surveys are a handy tool, the results you obtain can be a little skewed. Instead, try empathy interviews. Empathy interviews are more of an art form that you pick up along the way and are perfected by doing. Here you ask open-ended questions face-to-face, or even via Skype. These types of interviews can reveal interesting discoveries, perhaps even lend itself to a new product. So much can be picked up from reading between the lines. This detailed understanding stems from the ability to set aside assumptions and relate to customers on a deeper level.

3. Map the customer's journey.
To create a successful map, remember that these should always be built from the customer's point of view and should capture their perceptions of what they experienced relative to their expectations, needs, and goals. Try to envision their future journey among multiple touch-points, while keeping in mind key performance indicators. Their journey should be based on their understanding, engagement, and decision-making along the way.

4. Personal immersion
To know the customer is to be the customer. Understand your brand as a buyer. Any successful brand will know exactly the wants, wishes and buying 
behaviors of their consumers. They know their customers’ names, ages, genders, incomes, home and Internet addresses, professions, education, associations, and marital status, number of children, hobbies, their tastes, and interests. They know what their customers watch, read and hear. They know their likes and dislikes like the back of their hand. Knowing your customer to this depth is will make you wildly successful.

5. Train your staff
Your staff is your biggest asset, and when trained to listen properly for these insights they can translate these messages into actionable items. Give your employees access to the same feedback platforms you might use in a focus group or a survey. Establish structure and a process around listening, reporting and executing upon key insights. Additionally, you can train your staff to look for certain indicators to identify trends that can help with customer acquisition.


Now that you have the context as to the importance of customer insights, take the time to implement your commitment into a detailed marketing plan that you revisit regularly. When creating your newly informed plan, remember crawl, then walk, then run. Your marketing plan is meant to be a living breathing document informed by the ever-changing needs of your consumer. Spend all the time you need here and your ROI will be delivered to you in a nicely wrapped package with love from "the boss." 

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