“Being Customer Oriented Isn’t the Best Marketing Strategy”


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“If I had asked my Customers what they want, they would have asked for faster horses” [Henry Ford]

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” [Steve Jobs]

These quotes, including the title to this post, are exemplary to many others claiming that marketers should not listen to Customers but follow their own hearts, instincts or other perspectives.

Many of these quotes, and stories, are based on anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is, by its very nature, a reasoned truth thought up in hindsight. It tells “the truth” from the perspective of the story-teller. It tells a predictable tale in which their action (anything they did, explicitly not involving listening to customers) resulted in a positive reaction (eg growing market share).

Take this tale at AdAge for example. It’s a tale in which the author claims that a certain Chinese car manufacturer became market leader because they explicitly did not listen to Customers. Instead they listened to what (they thought) competition would be doing (= listening to Customers and focus on the sedan-category) and decided to do the different thing (=focus on the SUV segment).

Now, if I would have taken on this challenge, I could have very well made the exactly same choices this author did, based on the same analysis. Only, if I would have told a story about it I would have likely told it differently. I could have told that Customer research showed that Chinese Consumers desire a sedan, for it provides a certain status. But I would have emphasized we also discovered that, although there is a clear desire for sedans, Customers research “told us” that Customers really valued SUV’s, because their families are growing and they need the space and comfort these cars provide. The rest being history. Welcome to the age of the Customer!

Please check the article and you’ll see that both storylines fit very well with the available data in the article. Same advice to the Chinese car manufacturer, same outcomes, two different stories.

It’s much like the parabel of the blind men and an elephant, in which each man describes the elephant from his own touch-point (standing at the leg, or the tale etc). They are all right, albeit they are not feeling and telling the whole story.

And that’s what it is. The author of the AdAge article isn’t wrong. He’s probably right, as I would have been with my story of the same events. The whole truth is though that if the author did not conduct Customer research to find out that Customers really valued SUV’s and of he didn’t also check out what competition was likely to do, he would not have discovered that there was this huge underserved potential.

It is not the one perspective that will bring you Customer and business success, it is in connecting the dots between different perspectives. Regardless of the story you tell afterwards.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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