Have you ever received brand research findings that are so far off from your own thoughts and customer interactions, they seem to be for another company?
There you sit, critiquing the presentation in your mind: “I have never heard of a customer raising this issue. These can’t be our customers. They must have interviewed the wrong people. Or asked the wrong questions.”
This is the effect of something we refer to as the C-suite bubble.
This bubble is an important shield, protecting C-suite dwellers from mundane tasks and issues that can be handled by lower-level management. It helps them to reserve their energy for complex tasks and allows them to concentrate on the big picture. What this means is that while the inhabitants of the bubble may be aware of smaller issues, they are rarely directly exposed to them.
But the bubble is also a veil, distorting the C-suite’s view by filtering the information they receive. Due to the rank top-level leaders have achieved, it is unlikely that they are going to receive much negative feedback from within the company, unless they are not meeting their targets. Most executives prefer to handle problems themselves, as best they can, rather than give the boss bad news.
This trickles down to the feedback from external customers as well. While many customers would love to give a straight scoop, think about it: Who sets up customer visits for the C-suite? Most likely, it is the same executives who shield the C-suite from bad news. An angry or negative customer is unlikely to shed a positive light on these executives, so it is doubtful that any executive would take leaders on a customer tour that was--if not highly orchestrated--at least somewhat orchestrated.
The bubble is real, but the distortion it creates can be overcome. One way is through careful, unbiased research. Of course, researchers can talk to the wrong people, and some questionnaire designs can be poor. But a fact-based approach can ensure that researchers talk to the right people and ask appropriate questions. And experience and expertise are a huge plus when it comes to avoiding most errors and pitfalls. Before you completely tune out or reject the findings, consider how the brand research provider arrived at these results.
Done well, the research you’re questioning would have started with personal interviews of your top customers, as determined by people throughout your organization, including the C-suite. The discussion guide or questionnaire would have been developed by trained, experienced researchers in collaboration with your internal team and widely circulated for review and approvals within your organization. And the customers would have been assured of anonymity with regard to specific results.
In short, consider that your customers may have welcomed their first opportunity to speak candidly, and these seemingly outlandish results might actually be valid. Going forward, it is vital for C-suite occupants and senior management to take a critical look at their organizations, playing particular attention to the information they receive from third-party vendors like their agencies and consultants. We are not raising red flags to create problems. Rather, we raise these issues to help the brands that we work with flourish and grow.
So the next time you find yourself with research that isn’t quite in line with your perceptions, think of it as stepping outside the bubble. Then immerse yourself in the issues and concerns being raised by customers and the steps that could be taken to enhance the customer experience. Marvel at the novelty--and embrace the clarity of the view.