Four interesting and useful perspectives on ‘Customer Insight’:

There is lots of talk about ‘customer insight’ rightly so because ‘customer insight’ is the foundation for creating value.  So let’s take a deeper look.  Before I dive in I want to make two points.  First, ‘market research’ is market research it is not necessarily ‘customer insight’.  Second,  ‘customer analytics’ is ‘customer analytics’ and not necessarily ‘customer insight’.  If you have grappled with ‘customer insight’ for long enough you will know this.   Now lets move on and explore four different perspectives related to/on ‘customer insight’

Bruce Temkin’s view

Bruce wrote an interesting post on market research. According to Bruce, market research is not generating ‘actionable customer insight’ and the few glimmers of  insight are not being acted upon.  If you read the entire post Bruce gives the impression that ‘customer insights’ are lying around just waiting to be tapped.  In his words “There’s a wealth of information available about customers beyond periodic surveys from sources like call center records, interaction data, employee feedback, and social media.” And he concludes his post by writing “The bottom line: Customer insights are an under-tapped asset”.

To sum up Bruce’s view: stop making things complicated, stop wasting money on market research (and surveys) and simple tap into the customer insights and take action.  It is as simple as that.

Dave Trott’s view

Dave Trott is an advertising guy and his blog is worth checking out because he has interesting things to say.  In this recent post (which I encourage you to read) Dave makes an interesting observation:  the disconnect between the customer and the folks in advertising and marketing seeking to influence that customer’s behaviour.  He also recognises that this does not have to be so because the folks working in advertising and marketing can step into the customer’s shoes.  Let me share Dave’s words with you (just in case you cannot get to his blog):

We work in advertising.
We work in mass communication to ordinary people.
We could choose to experience what that feels like, how it really works, anytime we want.
We could go back to being ordinary people, because we are ordinary people.
When we leave work and go into a supermarket to buy something, we aren’t marketing experts.
We’re people shopping.
We could watch ourselves from the inside.
And when we experience ourselves like ordinary people we can see how little most advertising affects our choices.
We can see how irrelevant and silly all the subtleties and details we argue about are.
But we don’t do that.
We observe ordinary people through a microscope.
As if we are scientists and they are bacteria.
We have research groups and planners to tell us how ordinary people behave, and what they think.
We have marketing people to tell us the nuances of the meanings.
We have creatives to tell us which executions will win awards and be seen as creative breakthroughs.
And all of that is an illusion.
Try an experiment.
Be an ordinary person for just a minute.
We are told everyone is exposed to 1,000 advertising messages a day.
Quick, name ten you remember from yesterday.
(Because ten would be 1% unprompted recall.)
Can’t do ten, okay name one.
(One would be 0.01% unprompted recall.)
The difficulty in remembering even a single ad from yesterday gives you an insight into the real problem.
When we are ordinary people it’s blindingly obvious.
But when we revert to being advertising experts it somehow isn’t.
So that’s the real problem.
The problem is we don’t behave like ordinary people.
So we never see the problem.

We turned off our brains when we became advertising experts.”

To sum up Dave’s view (as I understand it) is that people working in marketing and advertising are disconnected from the reality of the customer’s world.  And that getting access to the customer’s world is as simple as connecting with themselves and observing their own lives and shopping behaviour.

Mohan Sawhney’s view

Mohan Sawhney has lots of useful views on marketing, new media and technology.  This is what he says on ‘customer insight:

To create value for customers (and yourself) you need to get a better and deeper understanding of customers – ”customer insight’

‘Customer insight’ is a fresh and non-obvious understanding of customer needs, behaviour and especially frustrations.  And this understanding can become the basis of a business opportunity.

A ‘non-obvious’ way of looking is a way of looking that others have not seen or have not considered because it is counter-intuitive.  That is to say that the herd is moving in one direction and you move in the other direction.

  • One example is Sam Walton who put large stores in sparsely populated locations – the opposite of retail orthodoxy – because he ‘understood’ that the vastly improved highway system had made it easy for shoppers from the larger urban areas to travel to these stores and for the suppliers to deliver goods cheaply.
  • Another example is Steve Jobs insisting that the iMac was launched with four colours because he got that colour is a way that people express themselves and makes the computer personal.  This did not go down well with the left-brained people who could say the negatives: delayed launch, higher inventory, more pressure in forecasting etc.

‘Customer insight’ never comes from quantitative research so don’t look for it in your surveys.

‘Customer insight’ involves going deep into customer lives in a empathetic manner so that you really  get (physically and emotionally) your customer’s life and her point of view. As such ‘customer insight’ involves qualitative, exploratory, research using electic methods and empathetic design.

‘Customer insight’ often comes from anomalies.

  • He gives the example of Kodak moving into the digital camera market.  Upon studying the market Kodak learned that 75% of the analogue photos were taken by women but only 25%.  Upon studying this Kodak realised that women had 3 issues with digital cameras.  Kodak came up with the Easyshare camera and gallery to fix these 3 issues – to make the camera and the photos easy to use.

‘Customer insight’ can come from the intersection of trends.

  • He gives the example of the Apple ipod.  Apple looked at two trends: personal music (Walkman) and digital music (Napster).  By asking why the convergence of the two had not taken off Apples learned that people wanted to take all of their music with them unobtrusively and wanted a simple and legal way to download music.  This insight led to 3 innovations: size of ipod, storage (10,000 songs) and iTunes.

Let’s sum up Mohan’s view.  ‘Customer insight’ involves a “penetrating view of the obvious, looking at things differently and doing this by getting into the lives and minds of the customer.” And “it involves moving your blinders – that means walking in your customer’s shoes but first you have to take off your own!”

My view

There is ‘truth and value’ from learning and acting on each of the three perspectives (Bruce, Dave and Mohan).  To build a new business you can help yourself by listening and acting on what Mohan Sawhney has to say.  To do better marketing and advertising you can really benefit from listening to Dave Trott.  And to simply get started on improving the customer’s daily experience of doing business with your organisation – to make things easier, to take out the effort, to fix what is broken – it pays to listen to and act on what Bruce Temkin has to say.

I leave you with the following quote from a Zen master and an incredibly wise man:

“if you want the truth to stand clear for you, never be for and against. The struggle “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease”    — Sent-ts’an (zen master c, 700 CE)

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.