It’s not a question that’s easy to answer; you can’t exactly walk up to a customer and ask them for an in-depth review. Comment cards are archaic and Yelp a graveyard haunted by bad reviews. The solution for most retailers and manufacturers is to insert their own perceptions and opinions of their brand into the mind of the customer and raise their personal assumptions as bolsters for business models.
And, well, we all know what they say about “assuming.”
“What retail owners don’t know their consumers are saying about them is costing them money,” says Ryan McCarty, a new partner in consumer research at The Mann Group. “At the end of the day, our jobs are all based on consumers—just going off your own intuition as an owner is really risky, especially in terms of longevity.” Those assumptions aren’t just making an ass out of you and me—they’re blatant miscalculations that leave potential revenue and, more importantly, customer advocacy on the table.
We’d all love to think we’re in command of our brand’s perception, but the truth of the matter is, we don’t own brand perception—the customer does. The only way to influence their perception is to start from a place where we understand the customer completely – how they shop, what else is happening in their lives around the brand and where the brand fits into the rest of their lives. To start from any other place means you miss the mark entirely with marketing and customer engagement decisions.
“Dan and I have talked about how a lot of retailers don’t have a firm grasp on consumer trends. They know who their patrons are, but they don’t know who they are outside of the store—or how to make a better retail experience for them to become a devoted customer,” McCarty points out. Composing your retail or brand experience in mind of what your customer truly wants is integral for success.
From the manufacturer’s perspective, it’s important to identify your brand’s equity—what does it mean, and what is it associated with? And not just what it means to you or what it’s supposed to mean, but what the consumer thinksit means. As for retailers, when juggling all your other responsibilities—from marketing to billables—you rarely have the opportunity to quiz customers on their perspective. You put up a product feature and leave it in the hopes that that’s enough. But it’s not.
Investing in consumer insight allows you to streamline your brand or business, across marketing and social media and storefronts and engagement, to genuinely appeal to customers new and old.
A LESSON IN INSIGHT
Don’t just take our word for it! Here’s a quick lesson from Ryan:
To a lot of store owners or brand managers, consumer learning and insight can be a bit complex with many different methods for gaining your customer’s perspective. I want to leave you with some practical steps you can take tomorrow which can start you on the path of better understanding your customer.
Leverage & Discover Your Social Footprint. Post on your store or brand’s Facebook page or Twitter two to three key questions you have on your store, two to three days apart from each other. You’ll be surprised how upfront your customers can be. Some examples can include:
• What are the best and worst experiences you have had in [Name of Store/Brand] in the last 6 months? What happened?
• If [Name of Store/Brand] was gone tomorrow, what would be the main thing that you would miss?
• What do you wish [Name of Store/Brand] we offered that we don’t currently?
Create a “Panel.” Find 8-10 of your loyalists that know and love your store. Offer them discounts or product trial and treat them as insiders to what you do. Send out an email to get them together for drinks and use them to ask all the questions you have about the brands you carry, your level of service, how you can grow—anything. Bring them in as a semi-part of the team.
Learn Your Local Community. Research online and on social media the popular groups and hobbies in your local community that you can be a part of. Everyone lives and shops in tribes; find the tribes with which your store or brand can connect easily.
Any of these tips will help you move the needle with knowing your customer and help you make more informed decisions.