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FutureNow Article
Thursday, May. 22, 2008

Why Consumer Data Isn’t Telling You What You Need

By Holly Buchanan
May 22nd, 2008

listening to customersIt’s not often I read an article and stand up and cheer. Well, a recent Advertising Age interview had me doing just that. And, yes, I did get some funny looks from those around me.

Who had me doing the Tiger Woods I-just-made-another-eagle-putt fist pump? Avinash Kaushik. (The title of the Mya Frasier’s AdAge article is: “Google’s ‘Anayltics Evangelist’ Explains Why Websites ‘Suck’ — Kaushik: Despite Mounds of Data, Marketers Don’t Understand Consumers.”)

Why did this interview get me so fired-up? Because Avinash hit the hot button with the fact that, even with all the data available today, most marketing efforts still fail because advertisers don’t truly understand their customers.

Here’s an excerpt:

Avinash Kaushik thinks one of the reasons why so many websites “suck” today is because of the hippo — as in the “highest paid person’s opinion.”

And, yes, you’re likely a hippo — a successful advertising executive, CMO or brand manager, pulling in a six-figure income, often found pontificating about what does and doesn’t work online. You use tried-and-true metrics such as unique visitors and click-through rates to decide on the best design for your landing page or what content is best suited on your product site.

‘Least closest’
Yet, despite your mounds of data, Mr. Kaushik thinks you are the “least closest to the customer.”

Now, I work with these “hippos” all the time, and they’re some of the smartest people in the room. I have tremendous respect for them. The CMOs and other top executives I work with are master strategists. But like so many of us, they rely on the customer data that is collected to give them the insight into who their customers really are, and what those customers really want. That’s why not having regular, direct customer contact IS a problem. You’re forced to rely heavily on the data coming in from other sources.

And often, that data is compiled, sifted, sorted, filtered, and presented in a manner in which the original customer intent, words and emotions are missing from the final “customer data report.”

You may get insight into WHAT happened, but what’s usually missing is WHY it happened — which was exactly Avinash’s point.

What can you do to learn “why” your customers did something? Avinash suggests the two products he evangelizes:

• Use Google’s analytics tools, including Google Analytics and Ad Optimizer.

• Add a short, free 4Q online survey (from iPerceptions) to your site.

I still think nothing beats getting face-to-face interaction with your customers. Everyone on your ad team — from the CMO to the copywriters to the web designers — should have regular, direct communication with customers. Now, I hear some of you saying, “That’s impossible. We can’t take the time to send all our people out to interact with customers.”

OK. Here’s another idea: Bring customers to your marketing team.

I saw a presentation at the M2W Marketing to Women conference by a company called Snippies. They have “video journalists” who interview people in different market segments. What I love so much about this approach is, you get to hear from real people, in real environments (not focus groups), in their own words. It’s amazing what you can learn about people by hearing it in their own, unfiltered words. This documentary-style format is very engaging; the impact and insight from these videos is way more powerful than simply getting a report with a bunch of spreadsheets and data.

Smashing Stereotypes

I also love this approach because it helps smash stereotypes. When you see real people, it helps you get past stereotypical views and gain understanding. The further away you are from your target market, the harder you’re going to have to work to get past customer stereotypes to gain that understanding not only of what people do, but why.

Don’t be the one who’s “least closest” to your customers. Take the initiative to gain that greater understanding. It will keep you from wasting money on ineffective advertising and help you create messages that persuade people to take the actions you want them to take.

. .

About the Author: Holly Buchanan is a Persuasion Architect with FutureNow. Each day, she helps clients use personas to smash stereotypes about their customers. She is also co-author of a new book, The Soccer Mom Myth: Today’s Female Consumer: Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys. If you’d like to meet Holly, join her on June 2nd for FutureNow’s Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar in Manhattan. Not only will you learn techniques for speaking to customers in their own language, you’ll get a chance to chat over hors d’oeurves and cocktails at our “Happy Hour with the Experts” reception.

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Comments (10)

  1. I have always liked sending Execs “Greatest Hits” CD’s / DVD’s / Podcasts of actual call center conversations. That is, if you can’t get them to actually take calls…

  2. Thanks Holly for the insight. Reading and analyzing mountains of data doesn’t beat face to face interaction and I love the idea that you put about snippies. Did I read correctly that iperceptions is free?

  3. Google’s analytics tools are really a must for webmasters. You can get a lot of information about your visitors.

  4. Jim, that’s a great suggestion that has worked really well for me in the past. Another similar idea that a colleague of mine used to convince her board to allocate resource for a big site redesign project was to do focus studies of their registration progress and made a video clip show of users struggling with it, with several quotes that caused audible groans from the board when shown it. She received all the funding she needed :)

    I think the key point Holly, and others, have made here is that you cannot rely on just one source of information whether it’s your opinion, analytics, analysis, or customer interaction. Only when all of those methods are used and rationalized do you get true insight. My 2 cents…

  5. I’ve just launched an internet retail website and am intrigued by the idea of video interaction with my customers. I intend to open my website to full reviews from my customers in the hopes that their positive reviews will benefit my site with additional future sales, and that negative reviews will be catalysts for shopping and customer service improvements. Moving from written reviews to video reviews invites a significant fine tuning and enhancement of customer interaction with my store. For example, how much more will my store benefit when prospective buyers actually see the item they are looking to purchase being used by another happy customer? Or, for a negative video review, where body language and tone of voice will embed the message more firmly than text, how much more will I act to correct a negative shopping experience? Internet retailers have gotten away with being “least closest” to their customers, and I am unfortunately no exception. There is no face to face contact, and the feeling of obligation to the customer often numbs when the buyer has no face, no voice, and no time. Being in the squeeze of of a maturing industry, I believe internet retail is fast being legitimized by technology (such as “documentary-style” reviews), customer demands, and traditional markets such as brick and mortar retail. I suppose it’s probably about time…

  6. much thanks for the 4Q link

  7. Hi Holly – I fully agree with your comments re listening to customers [in a previous life in retail, it was company policy for all senior staff to spend at least a day a week on the actual shop floor]

    However, there is a wider issue raised in the 4Q stats – and it ties in with Avinash Kaushik’s ‘hippo’ effect.

    Take another look at the four complaints listed for non-purchase. Only one – shopping cart problems – is a pure ‘online’ issue. Price is well beyond online’s control, as is stock selection [unless online has chosen not to list all products available offline]. Shipping options are an element of fulfilment – a part of, but not solely a responsibility of, online.

    My point being – you might be battling against 4 hippos, who all have their own opinion [and budget].

  8. And let us not forget – despite silly built-in prejudices on both sides – that usability methodologies and analytics are really, really meant to be employed and analyzed together.

  9. [...] Ich nenne es das „Demographie-Dilemma“ – Holly Buchanan hat einen tollen Post darüber auf geschrieben: [...]

  10. more will my store benefit when catalysts for shopping and customer how much prospective buyers built-in prejudices that usability methodologies and on both sides–service improvements. Moving from

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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