Me, me, me…

Customers need to know what you do, so on websites or other brand materials it makes sense to tell them about that. So here are your products or services. Here’s how long you’ve been doing this. Here’s how you started as a company. Here are all the people that work for you. But is that really what people want from you?

It seems logical, but we are far more emotional in our decision making. Do you really expect customers to take such a great interest in you — what about them? What do they want? When was the last time you really asked?

The best brands and propositions reflect a need, plug a gap, tap into a desire. And that means the best companies have taken the time to find out what those needs, gaps or desires are before they provide something that connects with that — on an emotional as well as a logical basis. We all know there are maverick companies like Apple that offer us products we never knew we needed. We all know that Henry Ford famously said that if he had asked people what they wanted they would have said ‘a faster horse’. But that doesn’t mean they operated in a vacuum. They too work from insights gleaned from experience, observations, experiments and listening. It leads to the development of great new products and services, but it also gives brands the ability to join and create conversations. Which is much more interesting and appealing than broadcasting lists of information.

Now, don’t get us wrong. Drawing on the history of a company, providing clarity on a new proposition, educating customers on the best way to enjoy your products — these are all very valid areas for brand communication. But the starting point of what to say must always reflect what the customers want – not how great you think you are.

How well you connect, and in what way is the acid test. Put another way: you may think you are hilarious. But is your audience laughing, or have they left the building?

Techniques for gaining insights into what customers want have changed. It used to be cutting-edge to have a room with a one-way mirror in a creative agency. Inside, focus groups gathered and were asked questions — directly and indirectly – about their preferences while others observed facial expressions or body language. Extensive surveys were also dominant – researchers with clip-boards asking people on the street about what they liked and didn’t. The data would be analysed, conclusions were made and campaigns were created to meet the needs of ABC1s or other pre-allocated market segments.

Today people are harder to pin down into predictable categories. It is ethnographic research techniques that are more common as part of ‘design thinking’. Observing or shadowing people in their normal setting reveals far more insights than how they reacted in a meeting room. Video diaries or contextual interviews with a handful of users can provide a richer set of insights into their unmet needs or pain points than a mass of spread sheet data. The ability to observe and listen is the way to unlock connections and develop a brand language that will relate. With this, we can then develop real brand content and nurture real relationships. Two-way conversations, not one-way promotion is the way to behave.

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