Why many Marketers do not truly Understand their Consumers 


Understanding your brand and the role that it plays in the lives of your consumers would appear to be bread and butter to most marketers. However, that real understanding of how and why your consumers use your product and their attitudes towards it is more often absent than present in most Marketing Departments and Brand Teams.

Perhaps it is the fantastic availability of extensive and accurate quantitative data measuring behaviours that makes us think we understand. But this data tells us only what is happening it does not explain the why. Too often Marketers, and others, when interpreting quantitative behavioural data create explanations of the motivations and emotions behind the behaviour with assumptions that are more firmly founded in their own attitudes and prejudice than those of their consumers.

It is easy to assume that we understand our consumers – after all we spend most of our time thinking and talking about them, we have more data on them than they would ever imagine and it shows exactly how they behave in many different scenarios. But knowing how they behave and understanding why they behave in this way are two very different things. If we want to get our products, our positioning and our communication right we really do need to understand the why. What are their motivations? What is driving the behaviour that we can measure so accurately?

This was brought home to me again quite recently when I was working with a client. While I had done research with this client in this market before the culture was very different from my own. I had to be very aware not to overlay my own – irrelevant – cultural values while conducting and understanding the research and in making recommendations for the way forward.

However, what became more apparent to me was that while the client team was made up mostly of nationals from the local market they were urban, metropolitan and well educated. In contrast, the consumer with whom we had been working was female and not always so well educated or metropolitan in a very traditional market. Although not many of the team would have thought so themselves, the cultural gap between them and me was, in many ways, much smaller that the gap between them and their consumers.

As we worked our way through the research debrief, understanding the emotions and motivations of the consumers, lights of understanding were illuminating around the room. Assumptions that they had made about consumers’ motivations were gradually dropped and replaced by a true understanding of their emotional reactions to their situations, their needs etc. and how these drove their reactions to the brands under discussion. Before I got to my recommendations the team were already telling me what had to be changed and why.

Just because this happened in a market that is different from yours do not think that you are immune, we have seen this in markets throughout the world. It is very rare that a brand team is made up of people that match its target market – and even when it is you cannot assume that you understand your consumers’ emotional drivers just because you look like them. Also, because we live our life thinking and caring about our brand it takes on an exaggerated importance in our thinking, we also know so much more about it and its competitors than our consumers do. Our view of the world is so different from our consumers’ view that we cannot assume their motivations without proper and challenging qualitative work.

Quantitative data is great for telling us what is happening, but in order to understand why it is happening we must employ good quality, challenging, qualitative research.

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