There is no uncommon growth without disruptive insights. And given how proliferate and accessible agile customer research tools are these days, it’s safe to assume the reverse is also true – that every failed branding execution has a failed attempt to identify critical customer insights behind it.

We see examples of out-of-touch brand activations pop up all the time. Take the recent  widely criticized and social-media-mocked Peloton Christmas commercial (which coincided with stock plunge of 15 percent in just three days, wiping more than $1.5 billion from its market capitalization), or last year’s controversial Dolce & Gabbana ad in China, which resulted in national boycotting, a near annihilation on major e-tailors like TaoBao and TianMao and an all-too-catchy pop culture renaming as “Dead and Gone.”

According to our survey with N=500 millennials after the Peloton ad became viral in early December, one out of four (or 23 percent) found the ad “Extremely Non-compelling” or “Non-compelling”; and one out of seven (or 15 percent) stated that they were “Extremely Less Likely” or “Less Likely” to consider purchasing from Peloton in the future, on a 1-7 point scale.  These backlashes from controversies can be extremely detrimental to brands.

In a world where companies are striving ever so carefully to be transparent and authentic, why are top players struggling to demonstrate basic common sense in their customer understanding?

Why Companies Are Struggling to Identify Customer Insights

Many companies, even with large research teams on staff, struggle to identify a real “insight.” In many traditional org charts, the research function, by design, is a siloed subject matter expert to the P&L holders.  Much focus, time and effort are put to ensuring the research methodology is sound, and that the sample size and margin of errors are solid.  Much is lost in the translation from the research done to the critical actionable insights distilled that can be accountable to steer strategy and course correct executions.

Real insight creation starts with an agile, iterative, cross-functional leadership team that has true customer obsession and depth of knowledge of how the business is run in order to both facilitate and champion customer-centricity . In our experience, we’ve found three fundamental ways that companies can use human-centered design thinking and customer-centricity mindset to avoid brand blunders and drive growth:

1. Powered by agile & inclusivity.

Be humble and lose the ego. Now more than ever, it’s the customers’ world and we are just living in it – and often, it’s the customers who are way more diverse than the executive groups that are running the business.  And precisely because of that, it is now more important than ever to look around the decision table and ask yourself, “Do we really know how our customers think, or do we only know how we think and retrofitted our own assumptions onto our customers?” Well-rounded inclusivity pays off as it also promotes learning from trial & error.  A culture that enables failing fast, “learning to do” while “doing to learn” reflects the digitally disrupted global reality in which we live.  Understanding our market, our customers, their desires and fears, their journey and experience is only the beginning of a job-well-done. And it’s not just for CMOs and heads of brands, but EVERY executive who has the desire and ambition to make a mark in his or her organization.

2. Flying at two altitudes. 

Thriving companies understand that growth comes from the killer combo of high-in-the-sky ambition and down-to-the-ground market listening. Do we have a blind spot?What is our real irreplaceable equity in our customers’ eyes vs. our own perceptions? Are we creating a mind-blowingly great product and experience for the customers who are the loudest and love us the most? Who are the customers we might be alienating? The digital-enabled market research world has made listening to customers incredibly easy. It’s unacceptable to sit back and say, “Well, this is how our business runs.” You must discuss digital with customers, allowing them to challenge fundamental assumptions. It might help reframe and broaden the very business you think you are in, resulting in identifying truly revolutionary growth opportunities vs. incremental ones.

3. Let customer-centricity roar.

Cliché as it is, many companies fail to look at the fact – digital transformations start with customer-centric transformation.  Companies successful at pivoting first are the ones investing in making customer-centricity a cultural necessity, a defining pillar of the incentive structure and a crucial part of the mechanism of how decisions are made.  Initiatives are prioritized based on both business and customer experience metrics. No investments can be made until customer metric ROI can be proven.  With the digitally native brands completely disrupting the norms and raising the bar – customer obsession isn’t something businesses can “sort of” do or assign to a department or two.It has to be put in the center of the organization and be lived by all.

Final Thoughts

Brand blunders like Peloton are often only symptoms of a systematic lack of mechanism in capturing and digesting true customer understanding, or, a lack of reality checks. Mocking is easy but transformation is challenging, and it needs to initiate from the top at the very core of the business strategy stratosphere.

If you’re ready to start showing up with true customer understanding, we can help you get there. Reach out today. 

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