Observation can make you a better marketer

Five Rules of Observation and Why it’s Hard to Do Effectively

One of the best ways to a deeper understanding of your customers is to watch and listen to them whenever you can. Observation and listening are powerful but often underutilised tools of the marketer.

It is, therefore, disappointing that so many companies run to conduct market research, usually a qualitative study, as a first step to improved customer understanding. They then (hopefully) invite relevant employees from marketing, sales, packaging, communications or R&D to participate. However, this intense but short observation is likely to do more harm than good. Let me explain.

Have you ever gone to watch a focus group only to discover that the research confirms your hypotheses? You are then irritated that you “wasted” money on the project aren’t you? Well, this may be due to selective listening and interpretation on your part. You watched and listened only to the topics that interested you. You were looking for confirmation of your hypothesis. There was so much more you could have understood if only you knew how to listen.

True understanding comes from regular interaction with your customers, not just from an annual observation or two. Here are some ideas on how to do this effectively.


Make customer observation everyone’s job

Everyone should observe and listen to customersThere are a wealth of opportunities for every employee in a company to come into contact with the customer. In a customer-centric organisation, everyone has annual objectives which include connecting with customers on a regular basis. This could be by listening to calls at the care centre, reading blogs and message boards, or participating in / watching promotions, demonstrations, sampling or market research.

Some organisations also make a habit of getting their employees to watch and listen to their customers in direct observation or connection sessions. However, this needs to be managed carefully in order to avoid people jumping too quickly to incorrect conclusions, as detailed below.


Observation is not as easy as it looks

There is a very well-known example of the challenge of observation, in a video showing two teams of young people passing a couple of balls around. If you haven’t seen it you can check out the Awareness Test and try it for yourself.

Share experiences of observation and listeningIn the exercise, people are asked to count the number of passes made by the team in white, so that is what the observer will concentrate on. In the background a man dressed as a bear, moon-walks his way across the screen, but most people are oblivious to the fact. They are so busy looking for the answer to the question, that they miss this significant event in the short video.

The same can happen when people watch customers. They are so concentrated on finding the answer to their question, or worse the substantiation of their own beliefs, that they miss a lot of what is actually going on. (>>Tweet this<<) If they listen objectively, they may hear something new. And this might lead them to a significant breakthrough in understanding.

For this reason, it is essential to run a careful briefing session before every observation exercise. This way people go into it with their eyes and brains fully open. Your Insight team can manage this in most cases, but to summarise what needs to be covered, I have listed below the five rules of observation.


The five rules of observation

  1. ORDINARY: Look for the ordinary not the extraordinary, but do note the things that surprise. These can challenge our preconceptions and help us to keep an open mind. Identify also the details of the ordinary event, things that were never noticed or thought about before.

You may see people finding ways to get around a problem or pain point they have. These may offer opportunities to increase satisfaction, either by resolving them or by developing a new product or service. (>>Tweet this<<)

2. ATTENTIVE: Be careful to record only what you see and hear. Don’t start analysing what you think is going on or you will certainly miss something.

If you are running observation sessions yourself, it is important to define roles for every company participant. (>>Tweet this<<) One person should lead the session, one could take notes and one can actively observe and perhaps take pictures. With these different roles covered, the discussion after the event will be much richer.

3. ACCURATE & OBJECTIVE: This is the reason why you need to remain attentive, so you get an accurate record of what is happening. Keep notes of what your see, when and where, and how people behave.

If you have direct contact with customers, leave your own preconceptions outside and never judge what is going on. (>>Tweet this<<)

It is also important not to react openly to what you see or hear. Pay particular attention to your body language. Keep asking (yourself, at least at first) why? Even if something appears obvious, the reason may not be what you think it is. So keep asking this vital question.

This form of iterative investigating is often referred to as the Five Whys“. The technique involves asking the question a minimum of five times to ensure you cover every angle.

4. TIMING: Observe and understand what is going on before and after the event, as well as during the event you are observing itself. The event needs to be put into the context of time and place within a person’s lifestyle and habits. This is the only way to understand its relevance.

Also, be patient as people often change behaviour when being watched, at least to start with. Give them a chance to relax and feel comfortable with being observed. Insight colleagues will certainly have mentioned at some point that in qualitative projects, the best comments come out at the end. (>>Tweet this<<) Participants think the recording is finished and so relax and completely open up!

5. DEBRIEF & ANALYSIS: Observation is most valuable if it is completed by an immediate debriefing session. Observers can together share, ask questions and start to analyse what they have seen and heard.

This is important if several groups have been following similar events such as shopping, leisure-time activities or food preparation, but with different respondents.

These five points should ensure that everyone enjoys participating in these observations. Both you and your customers will benefit from the experience and a maximum number of ideas and learnings will be gathered.

One last point for International organisations; be aware of cultural differences. Explore and understand the culture (>>Tweet this<<) where the observations are being made, especially if you are not a local. What is appropriate in one culture may be offensive or irrelevant in another.

Checking things out with the locals before going into the field can save a lot of embarrassment – or worse! It is also useful to have local members help in the analysis of what was seen and heard so that the correct interpretation is made.

If you have run observation or connection sessions and have learned something you would like to share, please comment below. I answer all notes and questions personally, usually within an hour or two. 

For more ideas on getting closer to your customer, please check out our website: http://www.c3centricity.com/home/engage. If you would like help in setting up connection sessions with your customers I would love to help you get the most out of them. Just contact me here.

This post used images from Denyse’s book “Winning Customer Centricity: Putting Customers at the Heart of Business – One Day at a Time.

This post is based upon and is an expansion of one that was first published of C³Centricity in 2011.

insight development process

Marketing Solutions to More Actionable Insights

Marketing depends upon actionable insights to satisfy and delight their customers. How comfortable are you with your own process and the actionability of the results?

Insights are the holy grail that all businesses seek but rarely find. Are you one of them? If so then I have some tips on how you can get better at developing more actionable insights.

#1. Insights take more than a single piece of market research

Does your management think that insight is “just another word for market research”? I remember one CEO with whom I had the privilege of working, saying exactly that to me. This was just before he stepped onto the stage to address the global marketing and market research teams at our annual conference! I’m sure you can imagine what a panic I was in as he walked up to the mike!

Insights are challenging to develop and rarely, if ever, developed from a single piece of market research. Each market research project is designed to gather information about a particular topic. Whilst it may enable a business to answer the questions it has, insight development is quite a different process. (>>Tweet this<<)

Insight development involves integrating, analysing and synthesising all the information you have about a category, segment or brand user. You then need to summarise all of this into knowledge and understanding, from which you develop the insight.

Single pieces of market research deliver information, not insights. It is therefore rarely successful to try to develop insight from one survey alone.


#2. All brands should have a Big Idea based on (at least) one insight

A Big Idea is a term often used today to describe a brand, product, or concept. The term is prevalent in advertising and is commonly used today to describe something unique that the brand wants to stand for. A big idea is big because it resonates with its target customers. It is a short description on which its communications and customer engagement are based. (>>Tweet this<<)

This is why insights are so important, as they are at the very foundation of the big ideas of all successful brands. For example:

  • Staples: “Low prices are secondary to a quick and efficient shopping experience for business customers.” This was turned into a new tagline “That was easy”. Staples then created the red plastic Easy Button and have sold millions of them at $4.99 each, the proceeds of which go to charity.


  • Mastercard: “Life isn’t about what you buy, but about the relationships you have with the people you care about and the special moments that you can share with them”. Most credit cards advertise their exclusivity, status and the accumulation of tangible assets that are bought with their card. This insight positions Mastercard as more of an enabler of the more important and intangible things in life.



  • Pampers: “Babies with healthy, dry skin are happier….and so better able to play, learn and develop”. The idea that babies are happier when they have healthy skin rather than nappy rash is not new. What P&G managed to do was to turn this into an emotional benefit which has inspired both innovation and advertising ever since.



Developing a powerful insight makes all brand decision-making much easier. If your plans reflect the insight, then move forward. If however, they communicate something different then you need to consider whether to revisit the original insight or the actions you are planning. Consistency is one essential element of brand success.


#3. Insights are developed from a desired behavioural change

Sales, marketing and management look to grow a category, segment or brand by changing customers’ behaviours. For example:

  • From buying a competitive brand to purchasing yours
  • From using your services once a month, to once a week
  • Moving customers’ belief about your brand from a traditional to a more modern image
  • Changing customers’ perceptions about your value from expensive to good value for money

Because insight development is based on a desired behavioural change, the most successful contain an emotional element. The emotion shown in an advertisement is more likely to resonate with customers, who are then motivated to take the identified action. The above Pampers video is a good example of this.


#4. Insight development needs more than insight specialists

Although this may sound counter-productive, insight development really does benefit from gathering input from different experts with differing perspectives. Getting to that “ah-ha” moment that is often referred to, takes time and energy, and is best delivered by a team than an individual.

A deep understanding of customers and their reasons for behaving in a certain way comes from looking at all aspects of their lifestyle. If you only review the actual moment when they choose or use a product or service, it is highly unlikely that you will develop that deep understanding. What happens before and afterwards also lead to their purchase decision and eventual loyalty.

This is why it is important to work as a team when developing insights. (>>Tweet this<<) Depending upon the issue or opportunity identified, the team can consist of people from marketing, sales, trade marketing, production, packaging, advertising, innovation, distribution or R&D. These people don’t even need to work on the category in question;

The people who make up the team don’t even have to work on the category in question. Sometimes it is by taking ideas from different categories that true insights can be developed. (>>Tweet this<<) See the next section for examples of this.


#5. Insights are usually based on a human truth

The insights that resonate best with people are those based upon a human truth. A human truth is a statement that refers to human beings, irrespective of race, colour or creed. It is a powerful and compelling fact of attitudes and behaviour that is rooted in fundamental human values. It is a fact that is obvious when quoted but is often ignored or forgotten in daily business. Human truths are linked to human needs and although questioned in some circles today,

Human truths are linked to human needs and although questioned in some circles today, Maslow’s hierarchy is still one of the most relevant sources. Examples of human truths include:

  • Parents want to protect their children.
  • Men and women want to find love.
  • Children (people?) want to be better than their peers.

The other reason that human truths work well as the foundation of an insight is because they provoke emotions and strong feelings in people. If you are struggling to find an insight, it can help to review the level of need of your target audience and see how your brand can use emotions to help answer it.


#6. Insights aren’t always category specific

Following on from the above points, it is particularly interesting that once found, an insight can be adapted and used for a different category. (>>Tweet this<<) There are many examples of this happening, particularly amongst major FMCG / CPG companies. For example:

Insight: “Parents want to protect their children so that they grow up happy and healthy”.

  • Unilever’s Omo: shows that a good mother lets her child experiment and learn – even if this means getting dirty. If you don’t know their advertising, then check out one of their latest from this long-running campaign: Unilever Omo “Dirt is Good” ad on YouTube
  • Nestlé’s Nido: illustrates this need as a mother providing the nourishment for healthy growth which allows her children to explore the outside world safely. If you would like to see a typical advertisement, check it out on YouTube HERE. Interestingly, Nestlé has used this same insight to develop advertising for its bottled water in Asia and pet food in the Americas too.

Insight: “Young women want to be appreciated for who they are, ie not models”.

  • Unilever’s Dove was the first brand to recognise and benefit from this insight. Their famous Real Beauty campaign resonated so well with young women that many other brands copied it, especially their Evolution film. HERE is one of their more recent ads that I’m sure will give you goosebumps.
  • The Swiss Supermarket chain Migros has a store brand “I am” which uses the same insight across all the health and beauty products. Somewhat unusually, the brand name itself is based on the same insight, and its advertising repeats it several times: “I am – what I am“.


So there you have six tips that will certainly help you to develop better, more actionable insights. I hope these tips inspire you to revisit your own process for creating insights. Do share any other ideas that you have found useful in developing insight in your own organisation; I would love to hear from you.


If however you believe that you could benefit from a review of your own process which may need updating or tweaking, then please contact me. C³Centricity offers 1-Day Catalyst sessions on both “Information to Insights” and “Insights to Impact”. Find out more and download the one-page descriptions HERE.


This post shows one image from Winning Customer Centricity and is an updated version of an article which first appeared here in 2013.

Co-creation leads to greater customer satisfaction

The Exceptionally Easy & Profitable Uses of Customer Co-creation

One of my clients, who is following the 50 weekly actions for customer centric excellence described in Winning Customer Centricity, asked me for some further ideas on co-creation.

Since working more closely with customers is the best way to understand, satisfy and delight them, I am impressed that she is taking co-creation even further. In fact, I realised that this is an area that many of you may be interested in learning more about, so I decided to share what I told her, but first …

What is Co-creation?

The term co-creation has been around for decades. However, it is only in the last ten years or so that we are seeing a growth in co-creation in so many different areas of marketing.

According to Wikipedia co-creation is “a management initiative, or form of economic strategy, that brings different parties together (for instance, a company and a group of customers), in order to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome.”

My M&MIndividualisation, which offers higher-priced items with a customer perceived higher-value, has been popular for years. It allows customers to design their own unique products to show off their personality. For instance, customers can personalise their M&M chocolates and design their own Nike running shoes. But these are not strictly co-creation since they are designed by one person for for one person. Co-creation is designed by many for the many. (>>Tweet this<<) 

After the success of such personalised offers, organisations understood that there is value in getting input from customers. They now include them not only in product enhancements, but also in developing their advertising and even in first-stage innovation.

The practice has been further intensified by the internet, which has enabled companies to reach out to customers across the globe, virtually for free. Social media, in particular, is a great source of customer understanding, as well as for highlighting issues with current offers. This is why co-creation should include social media in some form, as I’ll share further on.

Who to work with?

Winning Customer Centricity BookAs I mention in my book, not all business managers feel comfortable exposing their new ideas and concepts to their customers. If this is the case in your organisation, then you are left with the only option of interviewing employees. This isn’t such a bad thing; after all, they too are customers, but you need to keep in mind their biasses. They probably know more about the brand than the average customer and are also likely to be more positive towards it. However, their passion for the company and its brands is a valuable asset not to be neglected.

If your management allows you to work with customers, then you will want them to be vetted for different things by the recruitment agency:

  • They shouldn’t work for one of your competitors; nor should their close friends and family members.
  • They shouldn’t work for advertising, media or PR agencies, which could tip off your competitors.
  • They should be creative and curious, but not be one of the infamous “1%ers” (the ultra-creatives) that were popular when co-creation was first used.
  • They should be articulate and be able to describe their thoughts, ideas and problems succinctly.
  • They should be well-informed and knowledgeable, even opinionated if you want to introduce some challenging into the discussions.
  • Depending upon the task you want to share with them, they should be category and / or brand users – or not.

Some suppliers may propose psychographic analysis to hone their selection process. However, this is not essential if you obey the above rules and clearly identify the type of person with whom you would like to work.

Social media again provides a great way to identify and recruit those who are both knowledgeable and passionate about the category. Another source of customers, is from co-creating platforms that copy successful job sites, such as UpWork and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.


Should you compensate customers?

Most co-creation programs compensate customers, at least some of them, for their time and even their ideas on occasions. I have found that customers are usually so happy to share their thoughts and be heard, that they don’t expect compensation other than the opportunity itself. I have often received requests from participants at the end of a project, asking to continue in the panel or online group, because they enjoyed it so much. Customers love to talk to companies about their products and services, so why not make it possible for them to do so in a safe and private environment?

Compensation is therefore not mandatory, but adding prizes and a competitive element to the discussion can encourage a greater level of participation. I give some examples of brands that have done this further on.


When to involve customers?

There are many reasons you might want to get input from your customers beyond the more common anonymous market research. Here are some of the most often used occasions when you might want to include your customers:

  • Involve your customers in co-creationchoosing their favourite names, flavours or perfumes for a product
  • getting reactions to your marketing plans
  • sharing experiences and problems encountered with your category
  • reviewing product and communications’ concepts
  • watching pre-air advertising and choosing the ending, slogans or other details
  • asking for ideas on how to improve a product or service
  • running a competition to solve an issue the company would like to address
  • voting for their favourite new product or service idea
  • creating new flavour and aroma mixes from original ingredients
  • brainstorming with R&D on new product ideas
  • sharing opinions on promotional concepts or competitions.


Examples of co-creation

In Winning Customer Centricity, I mention a few companies who successfully use co-creation, such as Nespresso’s “Le Club” and P&G’s “Connect+Develop”. Since I wrote the book, co-creation has become much more widespread and there are many more great examples. Here are just a few to inspire you to invite your own customers to join your initiatives:

Heineken ideas brewery

Source: Heineken

  1. Heineken: Their crowdsourcing platform, called Heineken Ideas Brewery, launched in 2012, asks the public for suggestions, since they believe that innovative ideas can come from everywhere. The first challenge they set was for sustainable packaging and the best idea, the Heineken-o-Mat, was rewarded with a $10,000 prize.



Lego Ideas

Source: Lego

2. Lego launched Lego Ideas as a platform to enable their customers to create and share their ideas for new sets. Other users then voted and commented on these suggested new sets.

The highest-rated ones were often developed and launched by the Lego Group. The original creator of the idea was compensated with a small percentage of the net sales revenue.


3. British Airways: Airlines make a lot of use of customer panels; after all they know all their passengers’ details, so recruitment is relatively easy. BA uses their FutureLab to elicit comments and reactions to their questions and concepts. 

Their panel is made up of a global community who discuss everything from prices, to seating, competitions to services. BA shares their plans and ideas and gets immediate feedback on what their passengers believe might work and what won’t. And all this within a few hours and mostly for free, apart from a few small monetary prizes for the most active or creative participants each month.


Coca-Cola Freestyle machine

Source: Coca-Cola

4. Coca-Cola is one example of companies using co-creation for input to their innovation process. Their Freestyle machines is a fountain dispenser which offers over a hundred products, giving the customer the opportunity to mix their own flavour combination.

An additional mobile app allows them to then save it so they can get the same mix at any other Freestyle machine. Coca-Cola saves all the mixes in their consumer database, which can then be used to learn more about new flavour ideas and consumer preferences.


Purina Dear Kitten

Source: Purina

5. The final example comes from social media, where co-creation of content has become the norm. There are literally thousands of companies using their customers and fans to share their thoughts, ideas, photos and videos on their websites.

Amongst the best is Nestle Purina who started by allowing pet owners to publish pictures of their animals. This then was followed and enhanced by Purina developing and sharing fun videos including Dear Kitten from their Friskies brand and Puppyhoodfrom Puppy Chow. We all know how popular pet videos are on the web, so it is not surprising that many of them went viral.

Making use of co-created content

Speaking of “virability“, there are recent examples of brands that invite customer input, combined with a marketing promotion or a specific hashtag campaign. These are important for viralbility on such platforms as Youtube and Instagram which are primary sources for fashion and beauty brands, because of the importance of image.

Chobani is heaven!

Source: Chobani

One brand that was an early adopter of this and and successfully used customer generated content to both improve image and increase sales is the Greek yoghurt company Chobani. It invited its loyal customers to submit photos and videos praising their yoghurt, which were then used on their website as well as in advertising. They generated a lot of excitement with the billboards in particular, as people love to see themselves in print. 

These are just a few of the best uses of customer co-creation that I remember, but I know there are many more. If you have other examples I would love it if you would share them below.

In conclusion, I hope I have inspired you to try co-creation and to include your customers in more of your internal plans and processes. It is not only fun, it also provides you with fresh thinking and a deeper understanding of how your customers’ needs and desires are changing. Makes you wonder why you haven’t done more co-creation before, no?


Winning Customer Centricity BookIf you would like to learn more about “Winning Customer Centricity” then I am offering my loyal readers – you! – a free download of the first five chapters. Just go HERE.

Marketers need to show your customer care

How Marketers Like You Are Fully Benefiting From This Awesomely Changing World

I’ve just returned from a trip to California, USA. All you marketers who follow me on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, will have seen some photos of the various places I visited, from San Jose in Silicon Valley near San Francisco to the huge sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles.

I was there to attend a conference on how business people, not just marketers, can break through our self-limiting behaviours. I also took the chance to catch up with a few C³Centricity partners. All the experiences were mind-blowing or rather mind-stretching, and it is this idea which prompted today’s post. How we marketers can break through our well-established but self-limiting thoughts and behaviours to make our businesses shine.

Heart-centered versus Customer-centric

The conference I attended was a great opportunity for me to meet many other people from around the world, who want to make their businesses more heart-centered. You know that I am a champion of customer centricity, so you might be wondering what the difference is between a customer-centric and a heart-centered business. After my three days in San Jose, I would say that in my opinion, not much. I believe it is difficult to think customer first without it also involving the heart; at least, it should.

As we try to put our customers at the centre of our organisations, it is through a concern to satisfy and delight them. A heart-centred business would probably go further to ensure that what they do also benefits non-customers, or, at least, doesn’t harm them.

Creating shared value for smart marketersCreating shared value has become a strong commitment of many of the leading global players in the consumer goods market, with Vodaphone, Google and Toyota leading the way according to the Forbes “Change the World” List. If the topic inspires you then you might also be interested to read an article on “Innovation and Creating Shared Value“, which I was invited to contribute to the latest issue of the Journal of Creating Value.

But back to businesses; which is yours? Heart-centered or “just” customer-centric, or are you not even there yet? (>>Tweet this<<) Do you think customer first but forget about those who are not yet customers? If so, then here are a few current habits that some companies have, which show how customer centric they are – or not:

  • Asking credit card details for a “free” offer. This information would only be of use to charge the client and is a “trick” often employed by companies making time-limited free offers, in the hope their clients forget to cancel within the allotted trial period. Customer-centric businesses would only ask for such information once the customer is committed to purchasing the offer.
  • Requiring full details on a contact form when the customer just wants to ask a question or download something. This information rarely provides value to the customer and is a real turn-off for many. Customer-centric businesses avoid asking more information than they need for immediate action. For them, building a strong relationship with their customer is more important; the additional details can be gathered as the relationship develops.
  • Offering helpful suggestions of other products or services that may be of interest when a customer buys something. Yes, this does benefit the company too if the customer buys additional offers, but win-win service is customer-centric too. These recommendations use a technique called affinity analysis (sometimes called basket analysis) and although Amazon wasn’t the first to use it, they are by far the most well-known marketers to do so.
  • Providing positive experiences the customer hasn’t paid for and doesn’t expect. This can be upgraded products or shipping, samples or additional products or services included with their purchase. This benefits the customer by adding an element of positive emotional connection to the business. It also benefits the business as it can lead to a better company image and greater loyalty.

Creating Plausible Future Scenarios

As I mentioned in the introduction, I caught up with a few of C³Centricity’s major partners in California. One of them, SciFutures, in Burbank, gave me my own experience of the future in a hands-on way, which was awesome! During my last visit, they let my try out the Oculus Rift VR glasses. While it was interesting, the stilted imagery did not enable me to fully embrace the new world I was watching – a roller coaster they had warned would make me sick – which of course it didn’t! Not only did I not fully engage with the scenes shown, I was underwhelmed by the potential of using the experience for marketers.

HTC Vive for smart marketersFast forward to less than one year later and I was blown away but the HTC Vive and Amazon Echo / Alexa experiences they gave me. The HTC glasses enabled me to integrate into a world of endless possibilities. They invited me to become an artist and although I am not very creative, this tool enabled me to create incredible 3D images which I could view from every angle.

Amazon Ech Alexa


The Amazon Echo / Alexa unit, which is the first step towards a smarter home that I would certainly like to make, sat quietly on the shelf until an order was issued. Whether it was to estimate the drive time to my next appointment – which is vital when battling the impossibly heavy traffic in Los Angeles –  to requesting to listen to a specific music or to add an item to my shopping list, “she” was an always-on assistant that I can’t wait to have for real in the not too distant future.

Besides these fun experiences, we also discussed SciFutures’ work with major multinationals in developing and more importantly, showing, the possible future developments of the home, the financial sector and multiple other industries.

I am always living in / dreaming about the future, so you can imagine how exciting our discussions were. (If you are in need of some new perspectives on your own industry in order to be better prepared in this fast-changing world, then let me know and we can start creating an inspiring and exciting future scenario for your business)

Self-limiting Thoughts and Behaviours

At the beginning of this article, I said that I had been inspired to review the self-limiting thoughts and behaviours that slow our progress and that of our businesses. I, therefore, want to end with a list of them, which I developed during the conference and in the days following it. I would love it if you add your own ideas in the comments below.

  • Beliefs are created out of our own, personal experiences and we rarely realise that some of them are not truths. Tony Robbins said that “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.”  (>>Tweet this<<) While reviewing the following list, I suggest we dwell on our own thoughts and behaviours and make 2016 the year we made changes that will empower us. Both we and our businesses will flourish if we do. 
  • The word “can’t” is far too often used these days, when in fact we most likely mean “won’t make the time” or “aren’t interested“. We should be more honest with both ourselves and our co-workers. Explaining our reasons for our behaviour or lack of enthusiasm is valuable information for future exchanges and learning. “Honesty is the best policy,” said Benjamin Franklin more than three hundred years ago and yet we have still not learned the lesson! (>>Tweet this<<)
  • The word “should” often precedes the use of the word “can’t”. For example “I should do that but I can’t find the energy”. Again we need to be honest in admitting the real reasons behind both why we “should” do something and why we won’t. And again a better self-awareness and understanding.
  • We love to give rather than to receive. We love to provide support and help but hate asking for it ourselves. This is a crazy situation that most of us find ourselves in more often than we would like to admit? We like others to be indebted to us, as it gives us a (false) feeling of power. Keep this in mind and endeavour to make your life one of balance; to give and receive.
  • Shakespeare said it best in his play “As you like it”, Act II, Scene VII:  “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” (>>Tweet this<<) What are you playing it? Relationships are built on trust and authenticity, both in the personal and professional circles. Are you pretending to be someone you are not, or to know something you don’t? If so, the stress of being “found out” will take it’s toll eventually, one way or the other. Being our authentic selves is the only way to expand, grow and flourish. The same is true for brands.
  • “Procrastination is the thief of time” (>>Tweet this<<) is a mid-18th century proverb which means that if you delay doing something, it will almost certainly take longer to complete later on. The best solutions to procrastination include making lists, breaking down large or unattractive tasks into smaller, more achievable steps, and making the work time-limited. Making progress, however small, is better than none at all. (>>Tweet this<<).
  • Often one of the reasons for procrastination is perfectionism. We set such impossibly high standards that we know we’ll not meet, even before trying – so we don’t try. Life is for learning and as I said previously, any progress is better than no progress. Imperfection is human; embrace your humanness and learn from your failures. Edison is quoted as saying “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”.  (>>Tweet this<<) So ask yourself: “Are you learning to fail or failing to learn?” Hopefully, it’s the former! (>>Tweet this<<)

These are just a few of the many self-limiting thoughts and behaviours that many of us have and which make our lives more difficult than they need be. I was motivated by the conference I attended and I hope that my sharing these ideas has inspired you too to change, but without the need for the travel and resource investments I myself made!

My final comment on self-limiting thoughts and behaviours is a quote from that conference; “Fear is the only thing that gets smaller as we run towards it.” Hey all you marketers, are you ready to run towards your own fears and succeed in this awesomely changing world of possibilities?

If you’d like to read more on this topic then I would highly recommend you follow Steve Aitchison at www.steveaitchison.co.uk, as well as read a recent guest post there by Kathryn Sandford called3 Strategies to master the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back in life.” Enjoy!

Please share your own ideas and let’s support each other to be more authentic in 2016. If you haven’t already done so, please join the C³Centricity Members Group on Facebook, where we share ideas and support each other in becoming more heart-centered and customer centric.  

Winning Customer Centricity book coverThis post includes some concepts and images from Denyse’s book Winning Customer Centricity. 

It is now available in Hardback, Paperback, EBook and AudioBook formats. You can buy a copy from our website here, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook, iTunes and in all good bookstores. Discount codes are regularly published on our private FaceBook Members group – why not ask to join?

The best marketers share insights

How the Best Marketers are getting Deeper Insights

Are you as busy as I’ve been, trying to deliver on all your final objectives before year-end? Stressful times indeed, but this post is a must-read if you want to start 2016 ahead of the competition!

I’ve just returned from running a two-day workshop in Japan. The topic was “Insight into Action with Impact”. One of the things that I loved about the workshop was that marketing was invited too. Even though market research and insight (MRI) groups generally report into marketing in most companies, it seems to me that they are often working on different planets! In many organisations, the collaboration between these two departments goes no further than project briefings and results delivery.

This is not the case with my client in Tokyo; this MRI group has a wonderful working relationship, not only with marketing but also with Channel, Sales, R&D, Finance and even Legal. They have understood that insight development is too important to be left to the market research team alone (>>Tweet this<<) and have worked hard to build strong relationships with all the other departments in the company.

I am sure that many of you reading this, are asking why this is so important. It is NOT important, it is VITAL! Insights are the golden nuggets that we are all searching for (>>Tweet this<<). Successful businesses depend upon deep customer insight. They understand the power of engagement built on insight to connect with and inspire their customers. And yet many companies continue to leave this to the insight team to develop and deliver on their own. It’s as if they believe that this group have some natural-born skill or magic that enables them to do it while others cannot. Don’t worry, we can all do it with the right training and a few tools.

Great companies understand the importance of insight generation and the challenges faced by everyone in developing them. This is why the best marketers search for greater collaboration. I always encourage the market researchers in my client companies to socialise with other departments, rather than sitting behind their computers all day. The best marketers already do this, do you?

So if you are struggling to develop insights that will truly resonate with your consumers or customers, I suggest you follow these tips which I shared with my client’s marketing and insight teams this week. Despite being some of the best marketers I know, they are still keen to progress their thinking and processes to embrace customer-centricity in every area of their organisation.

  1. Turn business objectives into customer-centric ones. If you are defining your objectives in terms of the business, such as increasing sales, beating the competition or increasing awareness, you are not thinking customer first. Instead, identify what you want to change in terms of your customers’ behaviour or attitude and you are likely to meet with more success. This is because you will be thinking about your customers’ objectives rather than (just) your own.
  2. Insight generation should start with customer connection (>>Tweet this<<). When was the last time you personally spoke with your customers? If it wasn’t in the last week, you’re not getting out enough! Make a habit of regularly watching and listening to your customers. They are changing faster than you may realise, so it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of market changes.
  3. Have regular contact with all other departments. It is impossible to really understand the business if your contact with other groups is limited to meetings and presentations of analyses you have conducted or plans you have written. It must become a daily habit, so you are the true voice of the customer / consumer internally.
  4. Get MRI to share their nuggets of information at every occasion. While they may present findings in formal meetings and presentations, I know that market research and insight learn new things about the business every day, so why not as’ that they share them? Every project and every analysis turns up more information than that for which it was designed. Somehow these learnings get lost, as they are not seen as relevant to the question at hand. However, ask that they make them a regular part of their newsletters, Lunch & Learn sessions, or internal “Tweets” and they will surely inspire new thinking.
  5. Get into the habit of speaking with consumers at every chance you can. Suggest to join in when research projects are being run, listen in to call centre conversations, speak to demonstrators and merchandisers, or even talk to shoppers at retail. These connections can quickly become addictive as they are for the best marketers in the most consumer-centric organisations. As an added bonus, the insight development process will become both quicker and less challenging for everyone.
  6. Ask MRI to analyse more than market research information alone. They are the best synthesisers you have and can manage multiple data sets from all available sources. There is so much information flowing into organisations today that there is more data than even the best marketers can manage. According to IBM, more than two-thirds of CMOs feel totally unprepared for the current data explosion, especially as it relates to social media. And in some research conducted by Domo, a similar number of marketers claimed to be unable to handle the volume of data available to them. Ask MRI to help and you will be better informed and feel less overwhelmed.
  7. Remember that insight development takes energy and time. Although my client’s teams got close to the perfect expression of an insight in just two short working sessions, it usually takes days, if not weeks or even months to refine, group and synthesise information down to an actionable insight. However, the right training and some simple tools can speed their development for even less than the best marketers.
  8. Insight development should involve more than the insight team, which is why it is important for them to build relationships with other departments. The alternative perspectives brought by the other groups will enhance the overall understanding of both the customer and the market situation you are looking to address.

If you work in marketing or even another department outside of market research and insight,  I would love to hear what you do to develop your relationships with them. Do they involve you in insight development or only deliver the results of their process to you? What could you and they do better to make insight development and customer understanding easier in your organisation?

For more information on our training courses in insight development and brand building, please check out our website or contact us here. Let’s have an informal chat about how we could support your brand building efforts or provide fun training days, as we already do to businesses in many various industries. We love customers, consumers and clients!

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post includes concepts and images from Denyse’s book Winning Customer Centricity. It is available in Hardback, Paperback, EBook and AudioBook formats. You can buy it, usually at a discount, in the members area, where you will also find downloadable templates and the current discount codes. The book is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook and in all good bookstores.

Customers in your vision

Marketers, Do You Know Everything You Should? From the 5Ps to the 7Qs.

Marketing is a great profession. I’ve worked in or with marketing teams for most of my career. From the outside, they are seen as the department that comes in late, parties every night and gets to talk about advertising at conferences in exotic places. For those in operations or finance, they don’t seem to be that serious; they just appear to be always having fun. I’m sure you’ve heard such comments yourself.

Well, as you yourself know, marketing IS fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work, often close to 24/7 on some occasions. So is all that hard work paying off? If you work in marketing, you certainly know the 5Ps and hopefully you also check them regularly for your brand. However, the problem with them is that when you find an issue that needs your attention, you don’t always know immediately what to do. So I suggest you answer the following seven questions instead. They all explain what to check and why. And if you can’t respond completely to each one, then perhaps you need to do a little more work and a little less partying!

Q1. Who are your customers?

I don’t mean just their demographics. I mean who they really are; what, where and how they use or consume your brand. And especially why. If you can’t give all these details about your customers, then you’re in serious trouble. See “12 things you need to know about your target customers” for more details on defining your customer persona. You can also download a free, blank template at C3Centricity.com/c3cmembers.

Q2. How are your customers changing?

Hopefully you answered Q1. without any hesitation – you did didn’t you? It’s great that you know a lot about your customers, but people change. Are you following how your customers are changing? Are you keeping up with them and their new needs and desires? Do you know the impact of the latest trends on your customers’ opinions and behaviours? Do you know how these trends will develop and impact the market in five, ten or even twenty years from now? 

There are countless examples of brands that have disappeared because they didn’t keep up with the changing needs of their customers:

  • Kodak LogoKodak who didn’t understand the impact of digital photography.
  • Borders bookstores who didn’t get into eBooks.
  • Motorola, once the leader in smartphones, who didn’t embrace new communications technology.
  • Blockbuster LogoSony who resisted MP3 and lost the portable music player market that they had led for many years.
  • Blockbuster who survived the transition from VHS to DVD, but failed to adapt to consumer demands for home delivery.

The easiest way to be ready for any future changes is to prepare for them, by developing future scenarios. (>>Tweet this<<) How many possible future customer changes have you already planned for?

Q3. What does your brand stand for?

I don’t mean it’s marketing identity or slogan; I mean how your customers, or your competitors’ customers would describe it, its image? Is it strong and consistent? Does this image align precisely with its identity or the positioning you want today? Do you follow changes in its image regularly? Do you adapt your advertising and promotions to strengthen its desired image and eliminate negative changes before they impact the image? Is it authenticated by your customers’ experiences with your brand? It should be a direct reflection of your brand’s (internal) identity and promise. (>>Tweet this<<)

You should be able to describe your brand in one or at most a couple of sentences, using the words and ideas you want it to stand for, like these:

  • McDonalds offers “quick, convenient, family oriented and fun, casual dining.”
  • BIC LogoBic disposable pens, lighters, razors offer “high quality products at affordable prices, convenient to purchase and convenient to use.”

Q4. How are sales and distribution?

I don’t mean just the totals. I mean the local specificities. The regional differences and anomalies. Do you know why they occur? Do these differences result from cultural differences, alternative traditions or usage, historical reasons or just distributor practices?

If you don’t know why your brand is doing better in some regions than others, then you’re probably missing opportunities for growth. (>>Tweet this<<)

Q5. Do you know what your brand is worth?

I don’t mean how much it costs to manufacture or distribute. I mean how it is valued by the end user. How does its value compare to its current price? If you are not pricing it correctly, then you are leaving money on the table.

If you are priced lower than your customers’ perceived value, you could be asking for more. If you are priced above the perceived value of your potential customers’, you are stopping many new customers from buying into your offer, as they don’t think you’re worth it.

Either way you could be earning more and possibly selling more too. (>>Tweet this<<)

Q6. Are you using the right channels for communicating?

Many marketing plans are still just a rehash of last year’s, especially when it comes to advertising and promotions. With today’s huge array of media opportunities, both on and offline, it is important to choose the most appropriate ones for your customers.

If you answered Q1. completely then you will know which ones they are currently using most often, and if you are also able to answer Q2. you’ll know how these are changing or likely to change in the future.

Q7. Is your messaging consistent and complementary

Answering Q3. means that you know what you want to stand for and the image you want to portray. Image metrics will tell you which of them need to be boosted, depending upon the desired changes.

Do you want to attract new customers, support current customers, or develop your image in a certain direction? Appropriate analysis of your image data will give you all the information you need to adapt your messaging and strengthen the positioning you have chosen for it.

Next time you review your brand’s performance, why not use the above 7Qs rather than just the 5Ps? It will provide you with a clearer picture of your brand’s current and future development opportunities, and more importantly, will identify the actions you need to take to progress its growth.

If I’ve missed any important points that you check regularly for your own brand, please share your thoughts below by adding a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post includes concepts and images from Denyse’s book Winning Customer Centricity. You can buy it in Hardback, Paperback or EBook format in the members area, where you will also find downloadable templates and usually a discount code too.

The book is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook and in all good bookstores. If you prefer an Audiobook version, or even integrated with Kindle using Amazon’s new Whispersync service, you’ll have to be patient just a little longer – but it’s coming soon!

Insight & innovation

The New Ways to Innovate You Must Start Using Today!

When I get several requests in the same week on exactly the same topic, I know something is happening in the marketplace. This week was one such occasion.

A Pharma company wants a presentation on it; a CPG company asked me to give a half-day workshop about the topic; a conference requested a keynote speech about it; a major US business school wants a guest lecture covering the idea and a consumer goods company wants an article for their newsletter. What’s the topic? The new ways to innovate, that’s what.

With all this interest, and despite having written some popular posts in the past on best-practice innovation, such as “How to innovate more creatively”, “How to get R&D as excited about consumer innovation as you are” and “Never succeed at innovation: 10 mistakes even great companies make”, I thought I would summarise the latest trends around how to innovate more successfully today. So here are some ideas to get you thinking about the changes you might want to bring to your own innovation processes.

Customers react to new innovation1. Start with the customer in mind – always

So many organisations still have an innovation process that starts with R&D or operations. It’s time to reverse your innovation funnel and start with the customer. (>>Tweet this<<) What are their problems with current products and services; what do they dream of having? How are they compensating or compromising?


If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” Henry Ford

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them” Steve Jobs

However, as Henry Ford and Steve Jobs remind us, customers don’t usually know what they want. They are usually very clear about what they don’t like, but they also often know the solution they are looking for – even if they don’t express it as such. It is our job to interpret what they are saying into what they need. Therefore, identify the result they want but not how they want to achieve it, otherwise you will be looking for that “faster horse”!

2. Stage-gate innovation is essential for a successful business

Today’s world is fast paced and customers never stay satisfied for long. What surprises and delights today, is ordinary and normal, if not tomorrow, at best in a couple of weeks or months. That’s why it’s vital to work on new product and service developments even before you launch your latest offering.

NEW INNOVATION STAGE-GATESMany companies today work with generation pipelines, with three, four or five stages of innovation preparation. This ensures that they are already working on the replacement of each product they launch, whether or not it’s a success.

3. Line extensions can only do so much

Innovations risks opportunities

SOURCE: McKinsey Quarterly

According to the McKinsey article “Reinventing Innovation in CPG“, real growth comes from ground-breaking innovations, not simplistic renovations. However, line extensions do provide the time for organisations to prepare their true innovations, while responding to today’s customers incessant desire for novelty.

They are also easier to develop and launch, which means they are less demanding on resources. Companies which are satisfied with only incremental innovations are unlikely to see significant growth in the long-term. For this reason successful brands need to do both. (>>Tweet this<<)

4. Launch before you’re finished

Many tech companies use this approach, by involving customers as beta testers. In this way, they get their customers help – for free – to improve and mould the final offer. It also allows them to launch more quickly and gain the positive image associations of being first to market.

If you are concerned about confidentiality or competitive speed to respond, then work with customers through co-creation. (>>Tweet this<<) Involve them at every stage of the development process from ideation to launch preparation. If your management are  concerned about the risks of sharing innovative ideas outside the company, involve employees instead, perhaps from other divisions so they are less biassed.

5. Review the category in which you’re playing

Are you sure that your customers see your brand in the same light as you do? Many times I have heard a customer correct an interviewer in a research project, when asked about brands in a category. “That brand isn’t in that segment, category A” they say; “It’s not a competitor of X, but of Y and Z, the main brands in category B”. Some examples include dried soups which today compete with sauce mixes, carbonated soft drinks with fruit juices and body gels with shampoos.

Another advantage of understanding the category in which your customers place your brand is that this can provide you with new ideas for expansion.

Mars ice creamMany confectionary brands have moved into ice cream and desserts. They have understood that they are being seen as more of a “treat” than merely “just” a chocolate bar. When your customers choose between products from several different categories when deciding what to eat or buy, it is a clear indication that you are not (only) competing in the category you first thought you were. (>>Tweet this<<)

In conclusion, there are many reasons why innovations fail:

  • A short-term mindset where success is demanded in weeks or months rather than years.
  • Top management instils a fear of failure, so no-one will defend ideas that are unpopular.
  • The innovation process itself is biassed towards current knowledge and skills.
  • A lack of deep customer understanding.

These five ideas will help you to reinvent your innovation and also make it more customer-centric. After all isn’t that what all best practices should do today, involve the customer? If you have other – better? – ideas, then why not share them below?

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post includes concepts and images from Denyse’s book Winning Customer Centricity. You can buy it in Hardback, Paperback or EBook format in the members area, where you will also find downloadable templates and usually a discount code too.

The book is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook and in all good bookstores. If you prefer an Audiobook version, or even integrated with Kindle using Amazon’s new Whispersync service, you’ll have to be patient just a little longer – but it’s coming soon!



Customer service

4″Free” Ways to Connect with Customers for World-Class Understanding

Last week I spoke about five of the most important actions you can take when starting your journey to improved customer centricity. If you missed it, you can read the post here; it will be good background information to build from for this week’s ideas and suggestions.

In this post, I would like to continue to support your efforts with some suggestions on an area that many struggle with, that of connecting with and understanding your customers.

I believe that one of the main reasons for this, is that the target customer segment has been poorly defined. Perhaps it is too wide, such as all category users, or only superficially described just in terms of demographics. C³Centricity’s 4W™ Template, free to download in the members area, will provide a simple way for you to complete a more detailed description of your customer. Once you have that, you can then start to connect with them to deepen your understanding of them.

1. Retail connections

There are numerous ways that an organisation can connect with its customers. If you have a retail presence, then this is as simple as going to a few of them and then talking to the customers present. If you yourself don’t own the outlet then you will need to ask permission of the owner, but since retailers are also interested in getting to know their customers better, they will usually accept in exchange for your sharing any learnings with them. (>>Tweet this<<)Customers are more sensitive to value than price

Another opportunity to connect with your customers in retail is through promotions, demonstrations and sampling activities. These have the added benefit of being able to speak with customers who are already interested in what you have to offer, because they have stopped beside your stand. They also are generally more willing to take the time to talk to you even if they are busy, something which can be a struggle if you are just walking up to customers in the store. (>>Tweet this<<)

In addition, I have found that both these exercises can be a great way to improve your image with the retailer and may even warrant special treatment for your brand.

2. Secondary connections

If you don’t have the luxury of meeting your customers in person, then there are still ways to learn more about them. If you have a call centre, then why not listen in or even spend time answering calls? It is both a rewarding and useful exercise to do. This is why many organisations such as Zappos, make their new employees do just that in their first few weeks after being hired.

Market research can make you more customer centricMarket research projects are also another easy way to observe and listen to your customers, although in general you will be a silent observer behind the interviewer, who is asking the questions. Some people prefer to follow focus groups or in-depth interviews, even from behind the two-way mirror, since they will have the opportunity to impact the discussions by feeding questions to the moderator.

A third way for you to make these less direct connections is by following social media discussions. These can either be on the major platforms such as Twitter, FaceBook, Pinterest and Instagram, or your company’s own panel if you are lucky enough to have one. In either case, I would encourage you to observe and not get actively involved in the conversations. There have been many infamous embarrassments caused by under-qualified people responding to heated customer conversations on social media. DiGiorno (Nestle) and Progressive are just two of the more recent examples; this post gives many others that can heed as a useful warning should you be tempted to get personally involved.

3. Website connections

Today, most organisations rely on some form of online presence, to be available wherever and whenever their customers would like to connect with them. Understanding why your customers need to contact you is important to providing them with the best experience. (>>Tweet this<<)

The first place to ensure you are supplying the right information is on your contact page. Are you requesting customers to complete an online form where you request many details from them? If so, it is definitely worth checking if everything you are demanding is really necessary for that first connection. Name, email address and perhaps telephone number if you plan to call them back, should be sufficient, together with the reason they are wanting to contact you.

Connect with customersSecondly check that you are giving your customers multiple ways for them to contact you. (>>Tweet this<<) The form mentioned above is a rather anonymous connection, since there is no way for the customer to follow up, other than by sending a second completed form. The vast majority of consumers hate such forms with a vengeance and prefer to chat directly, or at least to be given alternative contact choices. Therefore you should provide your email address, telephone number and ideally a postal address. How many times have you been interested in a company only to find that you don’t know in which country they are based? Frontiers today are more linguistic than geographical, so your customers have the right to know whether or not they can visit your offices in person.

One area where this becomes vital is in online purchasing. Ensure that you make it as easy for customers as possible to shop your website. Enable them to check-out as a guest if they want, rather than imposing the completion of a long form of their details. Kissmetrics wrote a great post on this topic, with good and bad examples, which is worth a read if you are selling online.

Finally you should check the performance of your website; how many visitors do you have, where do they come from and what are they looking for in terms of information? This understanding could be a whole post topic on its own, but since there are many already available, suffice it to say that if your website is getting few visits or your customers are bouncing away quickly, then it is not serving its purpose of building a relationship with your customers. (>>Tweet this<<)

4. Sharing connections

Meeting and getting to know your customers is probably one of the most enriching and inspiring experiences an organisation can have. (>>Tweet this<<) There is so much you can understand about your current category and brand users by talking to them, that everyone should find ways to do so on a regular basis. As already mentioned, this could be by speaking with them directly whilst shopping, during a market research project, or over the internet.Share experiences when you connect with customers

You won’t be able to speak to everyone, so you will also rely on your colleagues to make such connections, or even external hostesses. This is why it is important that you get a full debrief, ideally in person, whenever you can.

It amazes me every time I speak to demonstrators, that they just go home at the end of the day with rarely any sort of debrief back to the client. On the rare occasions when they do tell their supervisors something of interest that they discovered, they are generally met with a lack of interest and enthusiasm. What a waste of intimate knowledge about the customer, their likes, dislikes and unmet needs and desires! Therefore share whatever you learn with your colleagues and ask them to do the same.

These are four ways for you to get a deeper understanding of your customers and which are probably already available to you today. How many are you using on a regular basis? Which have you found to be the most useful or inspiring. Please share your experiences below; it would be great to hear about your own successes.

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post has been inspired by the first chapters of Winning Customer Centricity and includes images from the same book. You can buy it in Hardback, Paperback or EBook format in the members area, where you will usually find a discount code. It is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook and all good bookstores. If you prefer an Audiobook version, or even integrated with Kindle with Amazon’s new Whispersync service, you’ll have to be patient a little longer.

Customer choice is hard

Do Your Shoppers Face a Purchasing Dilemma? How to Give the Right Customer Choice Every Time

I’ve just come back from a week’s course in Spain organised by the European Monroe Institute. The course was on consciousness, a thing all good marketers need to develop, especially when it comes to their customers’ choices.

The reason I am referring to this course, besides the fact that it was led by the brilliant consciousness expert Arkaitz, is because we spoke about a subject that is very relevant for shopper marketing. I did in fact already touch on something similar in last week’s post. I’m speaking about decision making and the difference between Polarity, Duality, Dilemmas and Trilemmas. For clarification, these terms refer to:

Polaritythe state of having or expressing two directly opposite tendencies, opinions, etc

Dualitythe state or quality of being two or in two parts; dichotomy, the division into two parts, kinds, etc

Dilemmaa situation requiring a choice between (equally undesirable) alternatives.

Trilemmaa situation, analogous to a dilemma, in which there are three (almost equally undesirable) alternatives.

Last week I spoke about the Trilemma as it relates to project work; in this post I want to review the different situations in which we oblige our shoppers to make customer choices and how we can make it a lot easier for them.


Customer Decision-making

Mark ZHow many decisions do you make in an average day? Tens, hundreds, thousands, even more? It has been estimated that an adult makes in excess of 30,000 decisions each and every day. (>>Tweet this<<) From what to have for breakfast, to what to wear and the route we take to work, we are constantly making decisions. However, have you noticed that when you need to make a decision, having more choices is not always better? More choice can in fact make decision-making all the more difficult.

In a recent article about Mark Zuckerberg, it was mentioned that he, as did Steve Jobs, wears the same clothes every day. A sort of uniform that enables him to make one less decision that he considers to be less relevant and unimportant to the success of his business. In the post he reveals that he wears the same clothes over and over again, because he wants to limit the time he spends making “frivolous” decisions, so he can concentrate on real work. As he says:

“I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life, so that way I can dedicate all of my energy towards just building the best products and services.”

Retail Decision-making

It has been proven that shoppers can end up leaving a retail outlet or online e-shop without making a purchase, when faced with too much choice. (>>Tweet this<<) This so-called “choice overload” was first mentioned in the book The Paradox of Choice, by Swarthmore College professor Barry Schwartz.

Schwartz co-authored a study that supported his theory in the context of Web search and other research has documented choice overload in contexts as wide ranging as gourmet chocolates and retirement plans.

Choice overload is also one of the major reasons, besides price, for the success of hard discounters. They take away those “frivolous” but hard decisions we usually have to make whilst out shopping, by offering just one or at most two brands or sizes of each article. We then have to make the choice between buying one of the two on offer, or purchasing neither (a trilemma). If you have the time, you might then go elsewhere to buy what you were looking for, but if the choice is of lesser importance or we are lacking the time, we will accept the limited choice and buy one of the two on offer (a dilemma).

Therefore choice is not always a good thing. So what can you as a marketer do to help the customer make the “right” decision in favour of your brand?


Know your Customers

The 4 Ws of customer understanding

If you’re a regular here, you will know that everything you do should start with the customer and from the customer’s perspective. Understanding their needs and desires, both stated and unstated, will enable you to better meet them. A satisfied customer is unlikely to spend time in choice and will automatically go for your product or service. You can read more about getting a deeper understanding of your customer in another post entitled “How Well do you Know your Customers? Can you Answer these 12 Questions?” here. 

Portfolio Management

Many retailers and some consumer packaged goods companies have noticed that consumers today are suffering from “choice overload”.

Unilever LogoBoth P&G and Unilever have done some radical pruning of their brands over the years. They have understood that most of their business comes from just a small number of all its products. P&G has around 300 brands today, a third less than just a decade ago. Unilever has been even more ruthless. Since introducing its “Path to Growth” initiative almost fifteen years ago, the number of its brands has been culled from 1,600 down to just 400.

Retail organisations too are no longer willing to offer increased space for ever-expanding brand portfolios. They often use the “one in, one out” rule and need strong evidence to add a new line from manufacturers. This has been especially true in recent years with the increase in the number of supermarket chains offering smaller, urban outlets, such as Tesco’s Metro and Walmart’s Express. You can read more about current retail trends here.

Walmart LogoWhat both retailers and manufacturers have realised is that Pareto’s Principle is highly relevant to the success of their businesses. The “Pareto Principle” or 80-20 rule, helps a lot in reducing the number of trilemma (or worse) type decisions that shoppers are faced with.

It therefore makes a lot of sense to regularly review your own portfolio and cut the “long tail” of slowest movers. Unless you have recently launched it or have a solid recovery plan in the pipeline, it is better to delete them.


Product Display

Another very good reason for reducing the numbers of brands and variants in portfolios has to do with innovation. Today’s consumers thrive on novelty and constantly demand new products and services. They quickly become bored or are satisfied for far less time than in the past.

In response to this, many companies have increased their level of innovation and new launches. However, neither retailers nor consumers want an ever increasing choice of products to sell or purchase. Therefore it makes good sense to have a “one in, one out” policy as mentioned above.

Identifying the best products and variants to put on shelf at each retail outlet or at a minimum by region, will enable customers to make those all important choices more quickly and easily. You will make the sale and the retailer will not be faced with stock that sits on their shelves, not moving; a definite win-win-win. (>>Tweet this<<)

Coming back to the issue of polarity, duality, dilemmas and trilemmas, I hope you can see that the situation in which a customer finds him/herself at the point of sale, whether they are facing a dilemma, trilemma or worse, will have a huge impact on whether or not they purchase.

Do you have something to add to this article and the customer choices we offer when they are faced with making a purchase decision? Please add a comment below. And if you enjoyed the post, then please share it with your friends and colleagues, so they too can be inspired.

If you would like support in reviewing your brand portfolio to identify the 20% of brands and variants that may need to be deleted, contact me here and let’s discuss your situation. I know I can help.

C³Centricity used images from Microsoft, Unilever and Walmart in this post.

Customer delight is real

The New Challenge of Marketing: Customer Satisfaction is Not Enough!

We all know how extremely demanding consumers have become in recent years. Constant innovation and novelty has made us all more impatient and critical. We want things better, faster and sometimes cheaper as well, especially when innovation isn’t happening quick enough. And customer satisfaction is becoming insufficient.

I was recently in the US and as seems to be the norm these days, the hotel in which I stayed asked me to rate their performance afterwards. I completed their form, giving only four and five-star ratings, as I had been very satisfied by the hotel, its rooms, the staff and their services. Imagine my surprise therefore when I got the following mail a day or so later:

“Thank you for taking the time to complete our online survey regarding your recent stay at our hotel.

On behalf of our entire team, I would like to apologize for failing to exceed your expectations. Your satisfaction is important to us and we will be using the feedback you provided to make improvements to ensure we offer an exceptional experience for our guests in the future.

I hope that you will consider staying with us again so that we can have another chance to provide you with a superior experience.”

Shocking mail isn’t it? To think that a Hotel apologises for not exceeding my expectations! (>>Tweet this<<) But I believe that is the reason why they get a 4 1/2 star rating on TripAdvisor. For them customer satisfaction is not enough; they want their guests to be enchanted, enthralled, excited, so that a return visit is a “no brainer”; no other hotel choice would make sense!

How do you treat your own customers, consumers and clients? Do you do just enough to satisfy them, or do you consistently look to exceed their expectations?

If you are a regular reader here – and I’d love to know why if you’re not, so I can do better in the future – you will know that I often talk about “surprising” and “delighting” our customers. These are not hollow words; there’s a very real reason I use them. The reason is that our customers can be satisfied, but will never stay satisfied for long. (>>Tweet this<<)

The above example I gave is one way that the hotel staff ensure they have enough time to correct whatever is not a “superior experience” as they term their own desired service level, and to continue to offer total customer satisfaction.

Here are a few examples of other companies who go above and beyond in terms of their own customer service; I hope they inspire you to do the same and to aspire to exceed customer satisfaction whenever and wherever you can.


Amazon's amazing customer satisfaction logoI have to start with Amazon because they clearly mention in their mission statement that they want “to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Although they don’t specifically mention exceeding their customers’ expectations, they are known for regularly giving extra in their customer service. This might be by surprising their customers by sending the ordered goods by priority mail when only standard was paid for, or refunding the total cost of an article that failed to totally meet if not exceed expectations.

They are also known for being extremely helpful in proposing other articles you might be interested in buying, based upon your current or past orders. Yes it might also make good business sense to do this, but as a result of this practice, who doesn’t trust Amazon and start their search online on their website? Customer service to Amazon means going beyond customer satisfaction alone.


Zappos is built on customer satisfactionTheir mission statement, also referred to by Zappos employees as their “WOW Philosophy,” is “To provide the best customer service possible.”

CEO Tony Hsieh is often quoted as saying that “We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department; it should be the entire company.” That makes it crystal clear how customer centric they are.

Another of his quotes is “To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means do something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver.” 

This mentions another of the reasons it is important to go beyond what customer’s expect today – the emotional connection. That is what touches our customers and makes them feel differently about our brand, company or service. Customer satisfaction is not enough, we need to stimulate their emotions too. (>>Tweet this<<)


Apple-logoSteve Jobs is famously quoted as saying that “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

It was therefore his philosophy to do limited market research and never to ask the advice of consumers on his innovations. What he did ask questions about however, was their pain points.

In a video last year Tim Cook, who replaced Jobs as CEO, talked about being “better.” While Cook mentions the environment, the bigger picture in what he was saying was that he wanted Apple to produce world-changing products that leave the planet better off. This can be in a literal sense like pollution, but also in a more figurative sense, like the iPhone, which has made millions of lives better.

In conclusion, these examples provide a clear roadmap for anyone wanting to move their customer service and engagement to the next level;:

  • Surprise your customers with something unexpected. Whilst I know it is more difficult than ever to do these days with such demanding customers, it is definitely worth the effort to build their loyalty.
  • Touch the customer emotionally so your product or service resonates with them. (>>Tweet this<<) As Maya Angelou is famed for saying “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 
  • Strive for better in everything you do; never be satisfied yourself with just repeating previous successes. This is perhaps the greatest lesson from all these great companies. As the Hotel mentioned, they want to exceed the expectations of their guests.
  • Make it a part of every employee’s objectives to ensure products and services that not only obtain customer satisfaction, but go even beyond that in any way they can. As Tony Hseih says, customer service is not the responsibility of any one department.

I am sure you too have examples of companies that were not satisfied until they had gone above and beyond what you expected of them. In a previous post I mentioned Dyson; what others can you add to this list? Please share your suggestions below.

This post used an image from “Winning Customer Centricity” Denyse’s new book out next month.