Unordinary Thinking No. 29 – What the data didn’t tell them

When it comes to understanding what customers want, most organisations defer to the data.  Maybe it’s because there is simply so much of it.  Maybe it’s because it is relatively easy to analyse it and establish patterns.  Maybe it’s because, increasingly, there is so much user generated data about customers themselves that we think sheer volume must be able to tell us the answers.

If only.  The fact is that customer behaviour is nuanced and complex and people make decisions for a myriad of different reasons which cannot be fathomed from a spreadsheet. It is wishful thinking to believe that by simply looking at data we can clearly understand how and why customers behave as they do.  Yes, data can give us patterns and trends and tell us the broad areas to focus on, but it often struggles to provide the granularity which marketers require to develop their solutions.

The best, most customer centric, organisations know this.  At Lexden we have seen Tesco, who have arguably the best customer database in the world and where understanding customers is part of the DNA, complement their gigantic amounts of transactional data with sophisticated qualitative insight to build a more complete picture of their customer segments.

We have to accept that data is only a part of the story of what motivates customers.  It cannot explain everything.  It should not exist in a vacuum and it must be contextualised to make sure that what is being inferred from it is, in fact, correct.  In essence, it requires humanising-the data needs to be put into the real lives, real homes and real conversations of people.  When you do this, you can start generating the type of energizing insights which can lead to more compelling products and more engaging conversations with customers.  And it takes you to some different places, as the following superbly demonstrates.

Continuum is a US design and innovation consultancy, who inherently understands what data can and cannot do.  They know that it is only by really understanding what makes people tick that breakthrough customer insights can be generated.  And from there, products and services which improve people’s lives can be developed.  Below is an anecdote about their engagement with a client in Brazil to develop products for their customer base at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum.

When they looked at the data: who the customers were, family composition, average incomes and the like, a picture of the potential audience started to emerge.  They then complemented this view with more data about what these customers were doing: for instance, where they were spending their money and what types of existing product they were buying.  They focused on one particular piece of data-these customers were increasingly buying televisions, which historically had not been the case.

But Continuum knew that the data was not telling them the full story.  They knew that, in order to develop engaging products for this group, they had to understand more about the core motivations of these people.  They had to understand about their deeper needs and what truly motivated them.

They knew a lot about these customers but recognised that they did not know these customers.  They knew who they were and what they did but not why they did what they did.  At this point, they understood their customers as excel spreadsheets, pie charts and data points.  They did not understand the customers as people and individuals making (not always rational) decisions in a particular emotional, social and cultural context.

Now, in the absence of attempting to answer the ‘why’, conventional thinking about the data might have led to an obvious, logical next step.  There is a plethora of information and articles describing the increased purchasing power of historically lower income city dwellers in all emerging markets.  Conventional thinking goes that as they have been able to secure better paid jobs, they have started to spend their additional disposable income on more aspirational items like televisions and other technology.  These items are status symbols and a sign of material progression in their lives.  Based on this insight, we can probably all think of the specific marketing and product development activity which could be developed on the back of this insight.

But they did not do this.  Instead they chose to focus on really understanding the ‘why’.  Via direct observation and conversation with these people in their homes, they got to the real motivations of why they were purchasing TVs.  And here’s the thing-it was nothing to do with demonstrating increasing wealth and something to show their neighbours.  It was something deeper and something we can all empathize with, even if we have never set foot in a Brazilian favela.  The neighbourhoods where these people live have high levels of crime and high levels of violence.  Far from a status symbol, parents were buying TVs to protect their children.  If their home, via television, could become a more attractive and entertaining place, then the kids would be less likely to become bored and venture onto the dangerous streets.  Gilt edged customer insight.

The rest was then straightforward.  With this understanding of parents’ deeper motivations, the obvious thing for the client was to reimagine its product away from the parent and design it more to provide engagement with children, with the subsequent positive commercial results.

Data is often described as being king and, indeed, it should be respected.  But it is never God.


Lexden is a Customer Strategy Agency | Putting your customers at the heart of the decision

We work with brands to attract and retain happy customers | We achieve this by helping them to understand what makes their customers tick, building memorable customer experience strategies and creating engaging customer value propositions.

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4 thoughts on “Unordinary Thinking No. 29 – What the data didn’t tell them

  1. obat kanker payudara

    I am extremely impressed together with your writing skills and also with the structure for your blog. Is that this a paid subject or did you customize it yourself? Either way stay up the excellent high quality writing, it is uncommon to look a great weblog like this one nowadays..

    1. Lexden Post author

      Sorry for the delay in responding. Thanks for your kind comments about the blog. We started writing about a year ago about things we found interesting and have continued to do so-it’s really nice to have good feedback. And, yes, we do it all ourselves. Thanks again.


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