Customer Opinion, Maybe, But Do You Bet The Store On It?

Sure and of course we all want to stay close to our customers. No doh. But I’m tired of the overworn customer survey advice that shows up everywhere, as if anybody hadn’t thought of that. And, more important, as if anybody ever tells the truth in surveys.

Opinions are easy, and often off base. Most of this research lives on very thin ice. The customer vote that counts is not their opinion, but what they do with their money.  Sorry, that’s my opinion. Irony intended.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of neuromarketing, but that’s such an intriguing phrase, that when I saw Gini Dietrich’s tweet (shown here in Tweetdeck), I had to click. I ended up with Gini’s post Customer-Centric and Customer-Centered Organizations: Which Do You Prefer? on the Spin Sucks blog. And an explanation:

Neuromarketing is fascinating and I’ve been studying it quite a bit all year (the best book I’ve found on the topic is from Patrick Renvoise called Neuromarketing. It talks about how to understand how your customers make decisions so you can create and market the products and services they will buy. While you take the customer into the creation and marketing process by understanding who they are and how they buy, they don’t actually have a say in what you provide.

That’s interesting. It reminds me of a wave of paranoia about subliminal advertising in the 1960s. Playing with your minds. I looked for the wikipedia definition. Kind of creepy, perhaps, but really interesting too:

Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing that studies consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. Researchers use technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain, electroencephalography (EEG) to measure activity in specific regional spectra of the brain response, and/or sensors to measure changes in one’s physiological state (heart rate, respiratory rate, galvanic skin response) to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.

Gini points out in her post that there are some confusing labels around this area. Is it customer focused? Customer centric? One of the more significant questions is whether the customer is the boss, and gets to determine what happens; or does the company build with the customer in mind, but retaining the ultimate control. Apple Computer is a good example. They design for the customer, they build what they think the customer will want; but they don’t let the customer tell them what to build. That’s an interesting distinction.

Wikipedia puts it well. It’s not what the customer says, but what the customer does, that matters:

Marketing analysts will use neuromarketing to better measure a consumer’s preference, as the verbal response given to the question, “Do you like this product?” may not always be the true answer due to cognitive bias. This knowledge will help marketers create products and services designed more effectively and marketing campaigns focused more on the brain’s response. This makes neuromarketing and its applied results potentially subliminal.

What I like best about it, to be honest, is recognizing that what people say is so often different from what they actually do. That’s always a huge problem in primary research like surveys and focus groups. They’re only as good as we believe the customer is telling the truth. And furthermore, how often does anybody really know why they buy? I fool myself about this all the time. I think everybody does.

So this is a fascinating new area. Can we do this stuff in small business? We can try. And, if nothing else, adding cynicism is a good idea.

(Thin ice image: CarbonSilver Photography/Shutterstock)


  • Gini Dietrich says:

    All great points, Tim, and I agree that surveys and market research and focus groups are the thing of the past. But what we are doing in my small business is really engaging the customer and our prospects. Not in the “how do you think we did” kind of way, but in the “hey, we’d like to know what you hate about .” And we do it multiple times a day through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and the blog. We’re very methodical in the types of questions we ask because we know what WE want to create and bring to market. But it’s fantastic that we have an engaged audience who will tell us what THEY think before we spend the time or money.

    If we had to rely on focus groups or market research, we’d be shooting in the dark because, as a small business, we just can’t afford those tools.

  • Mitch Bartlett says:

    And if you rely on some market research firm, chances are the people they recruit have been coached. They are often struggling to get certain people in for the survey and will get you to answer favorably in the pre-survey.

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