Your customers are amazingly complex animals. Literally. No two are the same. They have differing needs, motivations, contexts, and preferences. Acknowledgment of this basic fact of humanity is enough to make any marketing or product leader cringe.

Let’s talk about people.

Have you noticed that when you try to talk features to your customers that, for the most part, they really don’t respond? Gosh darn it, they’re supposed to because we’ve been taught that people are largely rational agents, and that given the right information, they’ll make rational decisions (toward our products and services, of course!). But, alas, it turns out that people aren’t perfectly (very?) rational after all.

To illustrate this, let me tell you about some of our recent work. We’ve done some interesting consumer insight work in highly technical consumer categories such as software and home security. Our research in these categories has consistently shown us that people think they’re making rational choices (“I prefer these features more than these features!”), but when it comes down to it, they’re taking shortcuts in their decision making by choosing the highest (or lowest) pricepoint offering or going with the brand name that was recommended or that they’re the most familiar with. (If you’re curious about how we approach consumer insight work, check this out.)

Know thy customer.

Peter Drucker said that “people never use your product for the reason you built it”. It’s a surprising phrase from one of the most successful management consultants to walk this planet. As it turns out, he was right. For example, sometimes a home security system isn’t really a home security system. Sometimes the features of a home security system (such as window and door chimes) are a tool that helps young families “wrangle their kids” and win back some time that they’re so strapped to find. As an experience, marketing, or product leader, it’s your job to know your consumer’s goals; only then will you be able to see a path forward to serving their needs.

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” – Peter Drucker

Human behavior is nuanced, complex, and curious.

Now let’s talk about the way we learn and describe people in a commercial context.

Artists have used “muses” for inspiration since the beginning of time. Take Dora Maar, a famous muse of Picasso, and the inspiration behind “The Weeping Woman” (below, left). Or Edie Sedgwick who caught the eye and imagination of Andy Warhol (below, right).

Introducing the ‘persona’.

Fast forward to the modern era and you find something similar called a “persona”. This was popularized by Alan Cooper, the father of Visual Basic and UX design guru.

Cooper saw personas as tools that help us model complex human needs and behaviors – a model that simplified reality to the point that we could do something about it.

“Personas are composite archetypes based on behavior patterns uncovered during the course of research.” – Alan Cooper

He ALWAYS defined personas as being rooted in reality via research. It is from this direct observation and research that, when done properly, creates highly valuable insight because it tells you the “why” behind the “what” in customer behavior.

The problem is, personas devolved into mush by many practitioners over time (largely because they weren’t based on actual research) and “persona” is more of a dirty word that a sought-after insight tool today.

Inspect the data!

Another method of insight I grew up with was inspecting customer behavior in the form of transactional data. I spent a large portion of my career executing complex direct marketing initiatives where I connected contact and offers to different customer database segments.

In this arena it’s popular to segment by demographic, and especially, economic differences. You can quickly slice and dice the data and categorize your top 10% apart from your bottom 10% and everything in between.

This tactic clarifies economic and behavioral differences between people, but it doesn’t tell you why they behave the way they do. And you probably can intuit that just because two consumers share a behavioral or economic pattern doesn’t mean that their goals and motivations are the same – in fact, most likely they’re not.

You see the gap? So do we. And we’ve found a cool solution.

Connect the two worlds.

To fully understand customers as the crazy humans they are, you need to connect two major worlds.

The first world is the world of goals and needs – you need to find out what makes your humans tick. We get at this in a variety of ways from qualitative research methods to analyzing online reviews. It’s through this type of rich discovery that we’re able to understand what goals consumers have and what is ultimately motivating them to act.

The second is behavior and economic worth. It’s not enough to just understand consumer goals and motivations. In order to make this insight actionable, you must also know what each customer’s value potential is as well as their behavior pattern. This requires some fun data analytics. We use tactics ranging from quantitative surveys, to clustering, and predictive analytics to uncover patterns in behavioral data as well as economic valuation of customer groups.

Economic clusters are helpful, but not the top of the hill.

When you put all of this together you get a view of your customers that is useful, in that innovative ideas more naturally surface when you have this insight, as well as actionable, because you can predict what “type” of customer each customer in your database is.

Mix personas with economic clusters to get real insight

Simply put, the combination of these types of human understanding will give you a superpower that you’ve never had before and that you’ll wish you had sooner.

At Sprocket we pride ourselves in bringing innovative research methods to market in order to help you better understand your customers so that you can grow your business faster than ever. Sound interesting? Here’s some more details on how we roll regarding consumer insight.

Now go forth and start growing your business with your existing customers.