By Katharina Kuehn

Published on Smart Company, 29th January 2014

Understanding your customers is a great way to head into a focused and successful new year. So, I’d like to dedicate my first blog for the year to the customer.

As fellow SmartCompany writer Yolanda Redrup predicted as one of the major marketing techniques and trends for 2014: “Everything will start with the customer, and then the marketing will relate to that. Companies will be restructuring around the customer.”

Let’s start with a simple question: What does ‘understanding your customers’ actually mean?

We don’t need to understand everything little thing about them. Instead, we can focus our attention and break this question down into two relevant elements:

  • What are the characteristics and elements you really need to understand about your customers in order to create marketing campaigns and strategies that relate to them?
  • What can your customers not tell you, even if you ask them (but you still need to understand)?

So, let’s address first things first.

What are the characteristics and elements you really need to understand about your customers in order to create marketing campaigns and strategies that relate to them?

You have probably heard it all and got lost along the way in the multitude and complexity of the different approaches and research techniques: Do we need to focus on needs, favourite colours, average height, lifestyles, demographics, personalities, all of the above or something else entirely?

Well, favourite colors may be the least relevant element, although the reason behind certain colour preferences is actually very relevant and predictive for a whole range of the mentioned elements such as lifestyles, brand preferences, tastes, emotional needs, etc.

To be less cryptic: Kelly Osbourne buys black nail polish, while Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, gets French manicure. How do we then unlock the secret behind why certain people buy certain products and brands, have certain lifestyles, style preferences and needs?

Surely not by demographics, as it is easy to see that both young ladies above belong to the same demographic cluster of a female customer, high income and around 30 years old.

The communality which explains certain customers’ attraction to your brand is personality, and it is also personality which then further explains lifestyle choices and needs.

Understanding demographics is nice to have, but we all know that we are not determined or described fully and appropriately by our age and income. Nor by our views on a certain brand or needs in a single category. The bigger picture is in understanding our personality types, of which we know there are seven different types which are applicable for marketing practice in terms of their retail and media channel behaviour, emotional needs and drivers, brand preferences, product adoption characteristics, lifestyles, thinking patterns, etc.

Dare I say it and just see what happens: If you would like to get a taste and an insight into your own personality type – email us and I’ll assess (or leave the country)!

Second: What can your customers not tell you, even if you ask them (but you still need to understand)?

As Uma R. Karmarkar, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, says: “People are fairly good at expressing what they want, what they like … but they aren’t very good at accessing where that value comes from, or how and when it is influenced by factors like store displays or brands.”

In order to create effective marketing that relates to your customers and connects with their hearts and minds, you need to understand the true drivers of their decisions and behaviours.

The challenge is that people are not consciously aware of the real reasons for their behaviors when asked because 95% of consumer decisions and behaviour happens at a subconscious level.

So it is a good idea to not ask people how much they would pay for a product, why they buy into a certain brand, why they love a certain shop or display and what they intend to do next.

The closest we can get to predicting all of the above is by understanding the hidden, subconscious drivers in the customer’s mind by neuromarketing approaches.

So the New Year’s recipe for creating an organisation focused around the customer in 2014 could sound something like this:

  • 100 g of personality profiling to build the base
  • A dash of demographics just for the seasoning
  • 5% of listening to what they think
  • 95% of getting a taste for your customers real drivers by diving into their minds

Mix it all together to create a relevant and personal experience by using the subconscious cues and signals (e.g. imagery, colors, packaging shapes, values, customer service style) that instantly tell them it’s their store, their product, their display, their lifestyle.