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Keeping Up With The Joneses

AcxiomAugust 12, 2015

As marketers we are wired differently and sometimes start seeing rather routine things from a marketing perspective. I receive several calls a week from an organization asking me to donate my car. Having spent some time working with automotive data, I know they can find out that I do not have an older vehicle at home but one I am still making payments on, and which logically is not going to be donated.  This is not a unique observation and I know others who get the same calls. While the initial data may not have been there for the initial call, the other curious observation is continuing to get calls even after telling someone that I don’t have a car to donate. I am not more likely to donate my car on a Thursday if I had said no on a Monday. This indicates the audience’s feedback and preference information is not informing the brand’s marketing campaigns and communications. Similar observations abound across industries. Let’s explore some scenarios:

A simple scenario: the same car company keeps sending messages to customer to buy an entry level sedan they purchased over a decade ago. The person has since moved from sedans to sport coupes to SUVs, to luxury sedans. The customer has changed significantly but the marketing has not accounted for that. They did not keep up with the changes in their customer base.

A more complex scenario:  a financial institution wonders why its customer base is not using its new mobile app and wants to investigate issues with usability of the app, only to realize that the app is fine, but its customer base is predominately baby boomers, and feel more comfortable talking to an agent on the phone. They did not understand the preferences of their customers, and more importantly they put the cart before the horse. Their biggest issue is their lack of age diversity in their customer population.

A frightening scenario: a major entertainment business suddenly raises its prices, loses hundreds of thousands of customers within days, and sees its stock price plummet. This illustrates a lack of due diligence on behalf of the brand for testing the range of price increase customers would be willing to absorb; and if that required additional value delivered.

All brands will see a change in their customers and their preferences

The 3 different changes;

1)     Customer base

Long time customers leave, new customers come in, but they are not fungible. The new customer’s loyalty will need to be earned, while they also bring expectations created by experiences with other, often competing brands.   Also, product purchase patterns and shopping behavior such as channel usage can all vary.

2)     Product/Service Preferences

As customers themselves go through different life changes and life stages, their preferences change e.g. apparel purchases of people starting careers, or moving from warmer climates to colder climates. New products and technologies can impact preferences. Whether it is adoption of mobile technology and social media by retirees, or a move to more fuel efficient vehicles due to fuel costs by young families, broader changes in the environment are constantly impacting and influencing customer preferences.

3)     Customer’s  Expectation of the Experience and Service

Last area of change is not product based, but interaction based. The shopper may be buying identical products or alternatives from a different brand, and that experience, as well as product, will inform their expectations and biases with your brand. This is where understanding and charting the customer journey can pay handsome dividends. A better understanding of whether and when they are in market can help brands drive meaningful interaction at the time of need.

3 different strategies:

1) Macro indicators:

Hypotheses of customer preferences and behavior can be based on macro indicators e.g. adoption of mobile, use of social channels for service, or product preferences like the move to SUVs at one time or hybrids at another point. Knowing who a customer is helps determine when a customer moves from one segment to another. For broader segments it may be a move from one sub-segment to another.

2) Benchmarking:

The other aspect where there is more of a gap is when segment wide changes happen. While shifting trends over time can indicate when segment need redefining, sole reliance on benchmarks and period over period change observations has its risks. If customers are not buying from you or buying less from you, then that share of wallet is going elsewhere, whether it is a different product category or whether it is expectation of a different shopping or service experience. That new brand relationship will impact that customer’s LTV with your brand. Benchmarks alone can indicate what is happening but not why. If the benchmarks are measurements of shifting trends based on hypotheses of macro changes in customer behavior then they are serving as validation points of the impact of these macro changes to a specific customer set.

3) Surveys, samples, panels:

Marketers have to be proactive to stay ahead of shifting consumer dynamics, both at a macro and micro level. There are large studies done on customer’s product preferences behavioral changes etc. They can be a key input into building hypotheses. Also, surveys need to be somewhat dynamic, done on an ongoing basis to understand the impact of those macro changes on the customer base, and to identify new trends as they emerge. The more dynamic the customer base, and more fast moving the product category, the quicker these cycles need to be.

Now what?

All of the above tells you who, what and why. These are key building blocks, but as GI Joe said “knowing is half the battle” so there is still the rest of the battle to be won.

One part is knowing, the second part is how that knowledge is utilized. The actions can include changes in product lineup, service approach changes, and adjustments in messaging, channel, offers etc.  The key is in understanding and supporting the journey for customers, and optimizing the experience based on their needs, preferences and expectations.

A tailored experience results in increased usage. A tailored experience that is consistent across channels can delight. To continue to delight customers today marketers must understand and act on the dynamic nature of a changing customer base and continue to design, define and deploy a dynamic customer experience and engagement strategy. In my next post I will cover some key considerations in crafting a tailored customer experience.

In case you are wondering, I am not any more likely to donate my car right now than I was when you started reading this post.