If we’ve learnt one thing in the past year, it’s that nobody knows what on Earth is going on. Brexit, Trump, May’s disaster and Macron’s victory are all global events that flew in the face of perceived wisdom. None were expected, none were predicted and the implication is that, collectively, we are not the people we all thought we were. For business planning and proposition development, that’s a scary thought.
Until recently, a mix of data gathering and ‘conventional wisdom’ about customers gave organisations confidence that they knew their markets. The problem with conventional wisdom is that it tends to let us down – as global events recently have demonstrated quite definitively.
But the idea of tearing up the rule book and starting fresh is far too scary for organisations steeped in market segmentation lore and vast reservoirs of survey data. There’s an eagerness to stick to the traditional broad groupings of customers, a shorthand for understanding an extremely complex set of motivations and behaviours across a wide range of demographics. But to do so is to suggest that what happens in the macro does not occur in the micro. The example of recent political upheaval shows that this is dangerous thinking – and that it has the potential to delude organisations into continuing to build propositions, products and campaigns for customer groups that are inaccurate or simply non-existent.
If we are to address this problem, we have to first understand it. So how do we do that – how do we redesign how we think about understanding audiences? With standard segmentations and surveys rapidly diminishing in usefulness, there’s a need to start talking to customers again. Really talking to them – face to face.
People are now fundamentally different to the way that they were ten years ago. The ability of the average man/woman on the street to share his/her views to a wide audience has increased exponentially via digital technology. This ability to publish, engage and share at any time has had an effect on us as individuals, shaping how we evaluate the importance of our own opinion and our willingness to share it. It’s also had an effect on brands, allowing them to strengthen and reinforce their customer research data via analysis of the vast amount of daily online activity.
The danger is that online data gives false confidence to brands continuing to rely on ageing preconceptions – a perilous thought in a time when their customers are changing more rapidly than ever. Rather than relying on data gathering, brands should be beginning to appreciate that there’s no substitute for face-to-face research.
In a time of flux, those who will succeed are the ones who accept that a fundamental shift is taking place, and invest in understanding its impact on their customers. It’s time to get out there and meet them.
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