Confused About Your Customers?​

Rich Curtis

  • CEO, FutureBrand A/NZ
Rich is the CEO of FutureBrand Australia and New Zealand, a global brand transformation company. In July 2020, Rich bought the local operations from IPG, making FutureBrand A/NZ his independent branding company with the relationships and resources of FutureBrand worldwide.

I've worked in brand and marketing for more than 20 years. I love the opportunity to use both sides of my brain each and every day, left and right.  

But there’s one area where I’ve found myself going around in circles and I must admit I'm becoming increasingly confused.  

The customer.  

On the one hand, I hear all about how customers are getting smarter and savvier. They're always right, and never more so than now, right?  

On the other hand, I’m told customers don't know what they want. And if they say they do – whether to their family and friends or to a focus group facilitator – they're often lying, if only to themselves.  

What compounds the issue is how companies marketing to these customers create and amplify much of that sense of confusion. Companies that are big on ‘purpose' but pay very little in taxes – which is still the simplest way to invest in something purposeful. Products that aim for 'brand love' in exchange for a pile of unwanted financial debt. Services that promise ease and speed at every step, only to lead you through a maze of steps if you ever want to disconnect.  

I'm confused. And I suspect many business executives and marketers are too.  

What drives customer choice?  

Answering this question can often help separate the noise from what customers actually need – based not on what they say, but what they do.  

One way to do this is using a discrete choice model to reveal the relative weight of different factors in making a decision. This would present that decision in the context of all decision factors. The model presents each decision as a combination of factors: Product features, service levels, brand and price, for example. By presenting multiple scenarios and only presenting those scenarios as combined bundles of factors, we can then deduce the discrete role and implicit value placed on each factor by customers far more accurately than if we simply asked them explicitly.  

Understanding the brand’s weight in driving decisions in the context of those other factors can be invaluable to understanding the bigger picture when it comes to customer behaviour. You will inevitably find brand is not the only thing, in fact it’s rarely even the most important thing. But it can and does play a pivotal role in how you present the most compelling offer to motivate your customers’ buying decisions.  

If nothing else, a discrete choice model can help clear some of that confusion by separating fact from feeling.  

Help! I’m dazzled by data  

Research can be illuminating. Simply standing in your customer’s shoes and walking a mile can be equally insightful. In fact, when was the last time you bought your own product or experienced your own service?  

But when you’ve been kept in the dark for too long, research and data can also be blinding.  

Turning your data into narratives that tell a story about your customers can often be a helpful tool to share customer insights in a way that aids understanding.  

You can start by reviewing the data, reflecting on the lived experience and building an empathy map of what your ideal customers say, do, think and feel. By turning this into a descriptive narrative around a customer archetype with a name, a photo, a family and a sense of their goals, motivations and needs, you can bring to life your customers in ways that are both empirical and evocative. And it’s all the more meaningful, not only for use by marketers but also by the business at large.  

If you can have your customers live inside your business, you’re much more likely to get a clear picture inside their motivations.  

When pigs fly  

Technology has fuelled a convergence of customer expectations to the point that pigs can fly.  

We not only want our banks to be safe and secure and keep their feet firmly on the ground. We also expect that they might be friendly and engaging and show some personality from time to time. And we expect that the great experience we have at the local coffee shop – ‘Morning Charlie, the usual?’ – might be no different from our bank knowing a little more about who we are and what we might need for an equally personalised and meaningful service. After all, we’re spending dollars and cents with the one compared with hundreds and thousands with the other.  

These increasingly fluid expectations mean customers no longer only compare banks with other banks, or supermarkets with other supermarkets. On the contrary, your customer's most recent experience checking into a hotel will inform expectations of their next experience checking out health insurance.  

This convergence can be confusing as you risk conflating needs and expectations in ways that might not in fact be relevant to your own brand, product or service.  

While your brand may be created with purpose, it is ultimately defined by the experience. What we can learn from these increasingly fluid expectations is the ‘goldilocks’ experience is rarely if ever one-size-fits-all. There are certain moments that matter more than others. Identifying them and clarifying the role your brand can play in elevating those moments is key to exploring, understanding and then matching what your customers need from you and your brand.  

If the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer, then there’s surely no better place to start?

Tags: customer insights, brand strategy, customer engagement

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