Understanding customers, cost or asset?

April 26, 2012

Ask a bunch of business people and they will all go on of the importance of consumer insight, of putting the customer at the heart of your organisation, of getting close to the customer or any other similarly clever sort of phrase. 

It is one of those things we accept as being rather important and the sort of thing that is just the way businesses have to be these days.  Or do we really?

I was reminded by a tweet earlier today that as people get promoted in organisations they usually get moved further away from their customers, and thus have a lower chance of understanding their customers at first-hand.

It has been said that marketing is too important to be left solely to the marketing department.  I’d suggest the same was true about insight or market research.  Not only that, but it is too important to be seen as it is in many organisations as a ‘nice to have’ or just a cost to the business. 

I once knew of a business where conducting some research to understand how your customers perceived your service was seen as a little vanity project for the marketing team.  But they weren’t doing it because they hoped to get a free lunch from the research agency; they were doing it to give some hard facts and figures to the business and to support a corporate tag line that was about being the best.  As soon as things got tough for that business they took a knife to the research budget and they had no empirical data to back up any claims.  The senior management team saw market research as a ‘nice to have’ and not as a ‘need to have’.  To them it was really a cost and not an asset.  Sound familiar?

They had not made the connection that by cutting back on research they were getting further away from understanding their customers despite the fact that they would still have chanted in unison in any strategic workshop session the mantra ‘we need to get closer to our customers’.

In the current climate it seems that saying it and actually doing it may be harder than ever. The research budget does appear to be back on the chopping block.  Ever the easy thing to remove, I’m sure many a conversation has been had along the lines of “why conduct research every year when every other year will probably do?” 

Ironically in these times when trends move ever faster and fashions change ever quicker is it not more important than ever to understand how your market, your sector, your competition or your consumers’ needs are changing?  Arguably the demand should be for more insight, not less, for increasing budgets not cutting them.

So next time you hear someone trotting out those phrases about understanding the customer, find out what they have actually done about it.  Have they really seen insight as an asset to their business or did they really just see it as a ‘nice to have’ that quite frankly they just don’t really see the value of.

The rise of do it yourself – a good thing?

April 4, 2012

There was a time when as a brand manager/ marketing manager etc you surrounded yourself with the right mix of skills. Often this involved paying other people who were experts in their particular field to do the stuff that you couldn’t do.  These people worked for companies who did things like design things, draw things or write things. (Clue: You knew it’s what they did because they tended to work for businesses with wacky names or ones with three or four surnames thrown together, and they all seemed to have been to better universities than you).

They in turn might hire other people to do things like storyboard, script and film stuff for a TV commercial.  (Clue: You recognised these other people because they seemed to wear clothes that you didn’t think were suitable for wearing during the week). Somehow it seemed to make sense.

But then things changed a bit. You didn’t need to spend money on people to do all of that sort of stuff. You could do some of it yourself.  There were computer programs that meant you could type your own brochures, why you could even use other programs to design things like maybe a logo, after all how hard can it be?

Then other people came along and invented other things that you could use to do your own research.

So what is the role of the brand manager /marketing manager in this day and age? And is all this do it yourself thinking really that smart?

Nowadays it seems (particularly to reduce costs) you can do a lot of things yourself. Of course you write your own annual brand plan, and you even type it yourself! You go out and observe some of your consumers in real life and also compare and contrast your competitors’ products or service offerings.  But you might also be tempted to do a bit of your own research using a cheap web application, after all how hard is it to write questionnaire, format it and then email it out to your own database?  The next bit gets a bit boring though. You have to analyse the responses, and then really you should compare the results somehow either to a previous study or make some other meaningful comparisons. Only you don’t, because that’s not what you do and it’s not what you should do.

I’d probably use the example of the orchestra and the conductor. It may not be the best example but let’s go with it all the same. You see in the orchestra my belief is that the conductor sort of keeps it all together.  He or she ‘orchestrates’ a group of other people with their own skill sets and as a result creates something wonderful.  But the conductor even if he/she is really good on the violin doesn’t take the solo spot. If he/she is rather brilliant on the trumpet doesn’t take over when the trumpet gets its solo spot and even if they are a wiz on the timpani doesn’t hog the limelight for the percussion solo.  They use other people to do the bits they are good at and the really smart conductor probably also recognises their own limitations.

Just because you have a camera built into your phone doesn’t mean that you should shoot your own brochure. Just because you have a camcorder in your phone doesn’t mean you should produce your own commercial. Just because you found a cheap app on the net doesn’t mean you should do your own research.

Remember, you are the conductor, so conduct.  Do not try to play every part as well.