Four ways to start involving customers in marketing decisions
The life expectancy of humans is growing year after year, yet that of brands and companies is declining at an ever-increasing rate. While the average lifespan of a company was 61 years in 1957, it is only a mere 15 years today. The risk of extinction is what drives many to rethink their business and move towards more agile marketing processes. This agile mindset requires brands to put the customer’s voice at the heart of their business. Yet embedding consumer feedback in the day-to-day reality requires a lot of effort, which is why many marketing decisions are taken without it. So how can we turn up the volume and better listen to our customers?
#1 Surf on existing business processes
Agile marketing does not necessarily require fancy new tools or business models, a quick win is to make sure the voice of the customer is incorporated in all your existing business processes. This even in areas like product innovation, which traditionally takes place in siloed environments within the company walls. And this is perhaps also the secret sauce explaining the success of design thinking in product innovation. Companies embracing a design thinking approach start their innovation process by immersing themselves in the needs of the people they are aiming to serve. This is then followed by an ideation phase (with or without consumers), after which feedback is collected from the market before going towards a concepting or prototyping phase. Rounds of concept and prototype development are iterated with rounds of consumer feedback, resulting in a product that is developed with the consumer at heart. Surfing on existing business processes should not be limited to innovation only, it’s about installing feedback loops throughout all your existing processes, going from customer experience journeys to even the development of a new brand (positioning).
#2 Think small
Yet one of the common mistakes when installing consumer feedback loops is that, too often, we tend to make them too heavy. We all suffer a bit from ‘research obesitas’, where we still have this ‘omnibus-mindset’ where, when we connect with consumers, we tend to bombard them with questions. This ‘asking questions for the sake of asking questions’ leads to extensive research time frames, while the insights gathered often end up not being digested in time either.
We need to start thinking small by installing more frequent yet shorter consumer connection moments. Instead of launching big omnibus research projects, we need to chunk our research needs into smaller pieces. This can be done by focusing on one innovation, brand activation or idea at a time and incorporating feedback on that single marketing probe. This principle of ‘surfing the river of tiny insights’ can also be applied to more strategic projects aiming at finding new consumer insights, where you observe a few consumers in order to identify a first insight platform, which you circle back to your client to then define hypotheses, additional questions or actions. Installing short feedback loops gives stakeholders the chance to learn gradually about the customer and apply insights directly.
#3 When research stops feeling like research
We often box all consumer collaboration requests as ‘consumer research’ whereas the need to interact with consumers also occurs outside the classic research funnel. Just think of when you are having a discussion with your colleague and you would like to quickly check your hypothesis or run something by your consumers. Or you are preparing a pitch for a new product and you would benefit from that one statistic to support your business case. Or you are about to enter an ideation brainstorm and would like to get some consumer inspiration. Consumer centricity exceeds classic research projects, it is about installing an ongoing consumer connection.
#4 Install a consumer connection capability
Installing a structural consumer collaboration can be done in several ways, from launching a Facebook page where you exchange thoughts with your target audience, to engaging interesting and interested consumers in structural research projects like Consumer Consulting Boards. Yet it is important that your organization has access to consumers in an easy and effortless way. Some clients even take a more creative approach, such as – for example – Unilever Germany, who installed their office in a big shopping mall to be surrounded by their consumers at all times.
Truly consumer centric companies build a structural consumer connection allowing consumers to help them out whenever they need it. After all, consumers are the best consultants you can hire. Don’t you think?
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