3 July 2020

Beware what you think you know

By Ben Saunders

The management consultant Peter Drucker once described the aim of marketing as “to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Understanding customers is crucial to so many aspects of marketing activity. It informs brand positioning and messaging, distribution channels, pricing, media mix – and, of course, the nature of the product itself.

But achieving that level of understanding is easier said than done. Particularly when, counterintuitively, the length of time you’ve worked for a business or in a sector can be a hindrance rather than a help.

The first step to understanding your customer is recognising that you are not that customer. It’s called market orientation; setting aside what you think, and what you think your customers think, and finding out what they actually think. Mark Ritson has described it as the process of “creating a space for research and insight to occupy.”[1]

Creating a space for research and insight. That’s a useful definition, and it’s important to keep those two elements together – like two sides of the same coin. The research and insight can come from all sorts of places. Commissioned reports, industry surveys, NPS data, ethnographic research, focus groups, one-to-one conversations, website analytics, Google searches – the list goes on. Many businesses are sitting on huge amounts already. Creating space allows the research to speak on its own terms; to give fresh perspective and correct misunderstandings. It reduces the temptation to cherry-pick findings which support pre-existing ideas, and to ignore the rest.

It also underpins our approach at BWP. Every new project begins with a Discovery phase, where we delve into whatever research we can find or commission to start to develop our own understanding of our clients and their customers. It’s a crucial starting point, because it forms the foundation for everything else we do – the brand and marketing strategies, the creative executions, the on-site activations. It’s all built off the bedrock of customer understanding

Clearing the decks of hunches and preconceptions and replacing them with evidence-based insight and understanding can feel slightly uncomfortable, but the advantages are worth it. New opportunities to pursue, and blind alleys to avoid. Positive associations to emphasise, and negatives to address. A hitherto unmapped land of possibility. And a crucial first step towards developing marketing strategies which are effective where it counts: with customers.

[1] https://www.marketingweek.com/mark-ritson-the-first-rule-of-marketing-is-you-are-not-the-customer/

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