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Thursday, January 01, 2009

How clients think

My 'light' reading on vacation is How Customers Think by Gerald Zaltman. This is not the sort of book you usually associate with reading on a beachfront on a quiet vacation day, but I actually enjoy learning stuff about marketing, so what better time to do some reading than while on a break.

The key point of the book is that marketers spend far too much time measuring and asking for solutions to the wrong questions. Focus groups, especially, are usually a waste of time and money if you want real insights, and while surveys have a place in the system for measuring some key discrete things, they don't really give you insights into the story behind the story of how your clients are thinking. This is because the measuring initiatives are framed from the reference of the marketer, not the consumer, and the consumer's perception can vary depending on many things, including the marketer's initiatives.

A key concept here is that the perceptions of your brand are framed by the client's cultural and life perspectives, and the actual experience they've had -- but their memories of what actually happened can vary depending on a variety of stimulus. For example, say someone was really quite pleased with your service, but just before taking the survey, someone describes an awful experience with your business. Their memory will actually shift, and 'go negative' even though nothing different happened in their objective circumstances.

The book is written more for branding of consumer rather than business-to-business services, and many of the examples are from large corporations with appropriately large marketing budgets. I think we'll all do quite well in remembering that your brand in part is defined by experiences and events somewhat outside your control, but your biggest achievement will be to create the strongest possible positive experience for as many of your clients as possible.

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