Getting into the mind of the consumer seems like a good idea: After all, how else can marketers pitch a product or service properly?
However, a recent study conducted by researchers at Imperial College, London, suggests that blunt attempts to empathise with the consumer can lead to egocentric, rather than effective, marketing approaches. The study found that marketers project their own consumer preferences--regardless of what independent market research might tell them--and this can dampen, not drive, demand.
The study, results of which were recently published in the Journal of Marketing Research, found that marketing managers’ attempts to employ empathy increased self-referencing when predicting customer preferences and reduced the use of market research.
Gut Feel Isn’t Fact
Anna Russell, principal of consulting business Polynomial, is a data scientist who advises clients on marketing strategies, particularly in the financial services, retail, and media sectors. The Imperial College research is particularly valuable, she told CMO.com APAC, in that it provides a useful and scientific reference point for marketers.
Russell said that analytically minded marketers generally are able to identify what she called “the disjoint” between the customer and their perception of the customer--although, she acknowledged, “it can be difficult with brand marketers who are often keen to use their ‘gut feel.’”
On occasion, Russell told, she has used data analysis to contrast how such marketers might expect their customers to behave with how they actually have behaved. Doing so provided a useful reality check.
Balance Data With Emotion
Digital marketing agency Lowe Profero follows the mantra “find, inspire, connect,” said Radhe Vaswani, managing director for South-East Asia and Hong Kong. To achieve this, Vaswani explained that rather than getting into the mind of the consumer, “we rely heavily on the data--we work heavily with search, which is important in today’s information age.”
“Based on fact and user behaviour, we then look at the consumer journey to complement their natural behaviour,” she said.
Successful marketing, Vaswani added, is less about getting into consumers’ heads and more about being relevant at the right time. To do this, organisations need to analyse forensically and to understand and respond to consumer needs, rather than respond to what the marketer feels the consumer wants.
However, in engaging the consumer, Vaswani acknowledged that a balance is needed between clinical appraisal of data and attempts to inject emotion into the message. Fortunately, “data allows you to be authentic,” she said.
Russell agreed, noting that the most successful campaigns emerge from a blend of rigorous data analysis combined with “empathy to explain that quantified information.”
An important finding of the Imperial College research was that despite a tendency for marketers to project their own feelings onto consumers when they try to develop empathic marketing campaigns, when marketing managers were explicitly instructed to suppress their private consumer identity to gain a clearer perspective, they were able to do so. As a result, the incidence of self-referential preference predictions decreased.
Asia-Pacific: One Size Won’t Fit All
The ability to decouple personal preferences from market data is particularly important when marketing to a region as diverse and nuanced as the Asia-Pacific, Vaswani observed. Local insight about consumer preference and behaviour as evidenced by the data was essential in honing marketing campaigns.
“It is important not to think of Asia as a single place and take into consideration: Who am I trying to speak to? When? And through what channels?” she explained. “The data reveals this, which is important, especially in China, to understand who your market is and what the platform is.”
Amy Webb, marketing manager for Nimble Storage in Asia-Pacific and Japan, agreed that what consumers want may differ markedly from one market to another.
“Customer preferences certainly change depending on the market they are in,” Webb told CMO.com APAC. “Cultural differences hugely impact the success of corporate branding, and there is no such thing as one size fits all. Soliciting feedback can be complex in different markets, so it’s important to find the best methods of communication in order to understand your differing customer behaviours and preferences.”
She stressed that while it’s important to understand the needs of customers, marketers must recognise that needs are not static, and marketers need to poll their customers constantly.
“The needs of our consumers can evolve in an instant--being plugged into the dynamics of your customers’ changing behaviour is crucial in understanding them,” Webb said.
“Speak with as many customers as you can across your market. If you cannot speak with your customers directly, solicit feedback via online surveys ... It’s never safe to just assume that your message is resonating with what your customers are seeking.”