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You won’t find your brand growth strategies in the numbers

(A version of this article appeared in Marketing Magazine in June 2020.  Pip has updated it some information but essentially it is still incredibly valuable a year on.)

As we continue to suffer strict lockdowns in Australia and business leaders re-think their strategies, we must work out where our growth opportunities are going to come from.

Marketers and brands owners are riding new territory on how to keep their brands alive and relevant with a customer that is also evaluating how they want to act and behave in the future. Routines have changed and customers are working out what they want to hold onto and what they want to change. New habits are being formed.

(As an aside, when ‘marketing experts’ who say that customers/people will just go back to ‘normal’ after COVID-19, there is evidence that not all of us will do that. In February 2014, strikes by staff on London’s underground network enabled a sizeable fraction of commuters to find better routes, according to research by Shaun Larcom, Ferdinand Rauch and Tim Willems. Many commuters were forced to experiment and around one in 20 stuck with their new routes after the strike was over.)

So how are you going to find out what your customers new needs and wants will be? What kind of customer and brand experience do you need to build?

For many marketers the go-to has been quantitative data points. Transaction and sales data, brand evaluation data, media reports, experience measurements and so on. Basically, big data dashboard summaries of past behaviour and past attitudes. But the reality is that this data is no longer useful as a way of understanding customers behaviours and new attitudes that have emerged.

To understand how you can stabilise and then grow your brand, you must speak to your customers – have conversations about how they feel, what changes they have made and how they have adapted. Ask them why they want to keep the new habits that they have formed.

Conversational data (otherwise known as Thick or Small data) is large amounts of unstructured feedback that comes from spending time with your customers and engaging in conversation. It delivers powerful insight because those conversations are full of nuance, complexity and, unlike big data, are full of emotional insights.

It is not always the words used either; insight can be found in an expression on a person’s face, a picture on a wall, a sticker on a fridge, a pathway shopped, or how one product is chosen over another. It is often the seemingly insignificant things as to why customers do what they do that turns into what we call ‘wow moments’.

In fact, in its 2019 study, ‘Beyond Big Data: Why Small Data Integration is Key to Customer Experience Success’, Harvard Business Review found that how a customer thinks and feels about a brand are both statistically significant drivers of how they act (purchase, loyalty and advocacy). Further, how a customer feels about the brand and their emotional connection with the brand, has a 1.5-times greater influence on driving positive business outcomes than what they think. Talking to your customers is key when unpacking ‘wow moments’ or ‘micro frictions’ in the customer journey that may have been missed in the big data reporting.

Recently, we worked with a volume home builder in Australia to understand the experience of becoming a first home buyer. Making decisions for and against building a home can start way before a builder may meet a potential customer, so they were keen to understand what these potential customers were thinking about. Through our conversations with prospective first home buyers, emerged a new customer group that the business had not thought about and the home building market was clearly not currently catering to. She was a financially independent female, focused on wellness and health, and serious about reducing her environmental footprint.

In a big data survey, she would have been reported as a group ‘unlikely to consider building’. However, by spending time with her and understanding her mindset we understand her story to be much different and how the market can actually cater exactly to what she needs.

Martin Lindstrom, founder and chairman of Lindstrom Company and author of Small Data: Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends, finds the same patterns: “The biggest problem with corporate data today is that everyone is obsessed with getting big data solutions on board. But you have to get your hands dirty to see the world from the customer’s point of view. You have to put yourself in their shoes and feel what they feel. Then you have something valuable.”

Because your customers are reviewing and considering which of their new habits and routines that they want to keep, the smartest marketers will need to have more customer conversations to map this unknown territory. You will hear the stories and new habit examples that will inspire you to drive your brand’s growth.

This week, in Kochies Business Builders, Ania Kubiak wrote about the importance of keeping closely connected to your customers changing mindset and behaviours by ensuring #restech is part of your marketing arsenal.   Are you ensuring the integration of ResTech in your marketing strategy?

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