Hope Felton-Miller January 27, 2017 No Comments

Many news sources have written about how the polls failed to predict the results of the recent Presidential Election. (See our summary here.)

In fact, that very failure has marketers questioning themselves and re-evaluating how they approach data and marketing research in their decision-making. The Wall Street Journal summarized this quandary: “In the wake of Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president with a wave of support from middle American voters, advertisers are reflecting on whether they are out of touch with the same people—rural, economically frustrated, elite-distrusting, anti-globalization voters—who propelled the businessman into the White House. Mr. Trump’s rise has them rethinking the way they collect data about consumers, recruit staff and pitch products.”

Marketers Live and Work in a Bubble.

Human beings tend to assume that everyone is just like us. Unless faced with evidence that this is not true, we tend to revert to what is most familiar to us. And because most marketing comes out of major urban areas, that is what we project. As Harris Diamond, CEO of McCann Worldgroup, said, “Every so often you have to reset what is the aspirational goal the public has with regard to the products we sell. So many marketing programs are oriented toward metro elite imagery. Marketing needs to reflect less of New York and Los Angeles culture and more of Des Moines and Scranton.”

The need to understand your customer is at the very heart of strong marketing. That the political parties failed to do so last year is surprising, because they – like all marketers – can only succeed if they keep that understanding central to everything they do.

Marketers must make sure we don’t fall into the same trap by recommitting to developing a deep understanding of all customers, even, and perhaps especially, those who are not like us. For only them can we reflect their need and aspirations in our products, services, and communications.

What are We Missing?

Marketers have a flood of data, from surveys, internal data, “Big Data,” or other sources, and it is easy to get a false impression that you are fully informed and that you understand your customers because you have a lot of data. Please note that we don’t advocate throwing out the power and insight that quantitative research produces. However, qualitative research is especially effective in getting to know those customers who are not like us, who have a different life experience than we do.

What is their typical day? They may not work in an office, and they do different things in their free time. What television shows do they watch, what books do they read? Where do they shop, and what alternatives are available to them? What do they want their life to be?

As you plan your 2017 research, think about including those customers in your base that you may not know as well as others. Include smaller cities and markets when you conduct qualitative research. Incorporate ways to look at consumers from different demographic, socioeconomic and educational groups. Identify a market segment that you need to know better, and take a deep-dive among those folks, including quantitative, as well as different kinds of qualitative techniques, including focus groups, in-depth interviews, in-home usage tests, shop-alongs, and ethnography. Try to develop a fully dimensional understanding by approaching this segment with an open and curious mind. You might be surprised what you learn!

As Mack McKelvey, CEO of SalientMG, reports, “Nothing replaces true customer engagement. I recently spent seven weeks in Colorado as … I listened to residents and fellow travelers from all over the U.S. and across Europe. In many ways, the seven weeks was some of the best accidental market research I’ve conducted in a while.” And while it’s not always necessary (or advisable) for marketers to run out and interview clients, participating in the research by attending the groups and listening to what customers want to say will also bring new and exciting marketing perspectives.

Unless you market a product that is “purchased” once every four years, there really was nothing new for marketers to learn in the 2016 election. Marketers of all products and services should always dedicate ourselves to deeply understand all customers. But if perhaps we’ve gotten away from that and developed a little myopia, now is a great time to resolve to understand our customers – all of them – better in the future.

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