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5 creative techniques to gain customer insight

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 12 Feb, 2015
Essential Essential topic

Practical approaches to connect you with consumers

The face of marketing looks entirely different from it did even a few years ago, and mastering the latest trends has become an ongoing struggle for marketers. But in the fight to stay innovative, many marketers lose sight of what really matters: truly understanding their audience.

Assuming that you know what your customers think is shortsighted. Like all humans, the needs, experiences, and expectations of clients and customers change. Taking the time to check in and discuss what’s important to them on a regular basis is the only way to deliver an experience that delights them.

Think about the last time you really felt heard. The person didn’t just listen patiently while you talked. She understood what you were saying and why. It felt pretty good, right?

Marketers who go above and beyond to make their customers feel heard tune in to underlying customer needs and desires. One effective way to do this is through empathy interviews. Although this process takes time, the connections you forge and the insights you extract will make it worthwhile.

Technique 1 - Discover the value of empathy interviews

People rarely know what they want, which makes traditional Q&A interviews unsuccessful. To overcome this barrier, empathy interviewing focuses on the emotional and subconscious aspect of an audience’s actions by revealing why they behave a certain way.

The idea is to get subjects to speak from the heart and talk about what’s really important to them, rather than what fits into the interviewer’s agenda. The process mimics a regular conversation, which helps ease tensions and encourages participants to relax and start telling stories.

Like a therapist, skilled empathy interviewers can draw out what the subject really thinks and feels about the human experience. The information you extract will show you where your customers are coming from and how they experience the world.

Armed with this insight, you can identify current and future needs your customers didn’t know existed and propose innovative solutions to fulfill their goals.

Other creative approaches for understanding your audience

Empathy interviewing helps marketers tap into customers’ underlying needs. When you pair this technique with other approaches, you gain a deeper sense of who your customers are and how you can deliver a smart solution.
Here are four more ways you can extract valuable information about your audience:

Technique 2 - Observe users in their natural environment

Seeing your customers in a natural setting is an authentic approach that exposes not only which products they use, but also their feelings and utility for those products.

At the Procter & Gamble Mason Business Center in Ohio, P&G set up a lab that takes customer discovery to a whole new level. At the oral health science 'Insight Suite,' a two-way mirror lets the company watch customers use products in a bathroom and a kitchen. Researchers can then note how users interact with the products and what they use them for.

Gathering this information can clue you in to uses for your products that you hadn’t considered. Knowing where the product is stored and maintained can also inspire adjacent product enhancement opportunities.

Technique 3 - Watch how customers buy your product

Paying close attention to how customers' approach, consider, and decide to buy will help you understand their frame of mind. But remember: People don’t always know why they do certain things, so you can’t interview them about this process. Whether it’s for online or brick-and-mortar stores, you need to observe their actions.

In physical locations, do they simply purchase, or do they ask questions first? Do they seek additional product information, compare prices online, or find a store representative to assist with the purchase? Identifying trends can help you better equip salespeople to overcome these pain points.

If your products are online, there are now sophisticated tools to show you exactly where customers click, how long they stay on a page, and what parts of the page they’re most interested in. Google’s In-Page Analytics, KISSmetrics, and ClickTale are just three tools that enable you to monitor customer behaviour online.

Following customers’ path to purchase can give you insight into their thought processes. It will let you know what they consider important and how confident they are in your product. 

Technique 4  - Attend an event or trade show

This is particularly helpful for understanding B2B customers. Observing how they position themselves and interact with their customers will reveal their self-perception and direction for the future.

In one of the booth exhibit assessments that we did as part of a competitor audit, our company looked at everything from messaging to staff engagement and found it all lacking. In this case, other signage in the area was more prominent, branding was nonexistent, and access to only one entry limited that company’s ability to interact with people in the area. The employees were all standing too far back to properly engage. The company was present, but it wasn’t creating a differentiated experience for the attendees.

When observing, make sure to note what the experience is like inside their booths. What kind of presence do they project through their booths or sponsorships? How do employees interact with their customers and tell the company story? 

Technique 5 - Gauge the competition

Interviewing your competitors’ customers provides an external perspective of your target consumer or company. Knowing your competitors’ perceived strengths and weaknesses is invaluable for differentiating yourself in the market.

Once you get an idea of their positioning, you can compare it to other companies’ positioning within the industry. Understanding how much time and money they invest in innovation, new product development, and thought leadership will help you identify where they’re headed.

While it’s important to utilize these ways of extracting information, at the end of the day, understanding your target audience is all about stories; they reflect and shape how people view the world. By understanding those personal stories, you can better connect with your customers and unite them with your company’s mission.

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By Expert commentator

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