Don’t Believe Everything You Think

How to bridge the gap between what you think customers want and what they really want

You may think you know everything about your customer experience, but it’s important not to believe everything you think.

Based on past success, you may have formed firm beliefs—you know what customers want. There is a high probability this line of reasoning is flawed. The sense of confidence instilled by past successes often stops decision-makers from questioning what is really going on and can obscure mistakes and block breakthroughs.

Here are some examples of marketing based on beliefs that didn’t quite hit the mark and how to bridge the gap between what you think customers want and what customers want. (Hint,) ask them!

Fleet Size Does Not Translate

An HVAC service provider had been a leader in their market for decades. Messaging reflected what the company believed to be the most important aspect of its service - having the largest service fleet in the metro area. Through our survey work, we learned directly from customers that reliable workmanship with quick response times was really important, but customers didn’t connect fleet size to response time. So, we retired “largest fleet size” and replaced it with messaging that reflected what really mattered to the customer—speed! “Responsive” became the watchword guiding marketing efforts. The research also allowed the provider to focus their customer service on responsiveness.

International Not on the Local Radar

An industrial air filtration leader believed its worldwide presence was both a source of its success and was important to customers. So, when lower-priced parity products entered a particular market, the marketing messaging touted international strength. Results were tepid. Through our survey work, customers revealed a powerful insight. When you are in Toledo or Topeka, you don’t care that the product you need is available in Tokyo and Torino. Much like fleet size, international messaging was put on the shelf in favor of more compelling benefits that aligned with what customers wanted.

Get a Sense of What Customers Really Want

In the examples above, highly successful companies filled with super smart people came pretty close to choosing the marketing focus that would propel them forward – but just missed the mark. They based marketing decisions on real elements of success, believing that these must mirror what customers find most important. Conflating the impressive with the important is an easy mistake when you’ve built a successful business and loyal customer base, but much like baseball customer research often reveals that a return to the fundamentals is what keeps you on a winning streak.

If you’ve been on our site, you may have read our case study on Milkhouse Candle Co. This is a similar situation of a successful company unable to point to a clear differentiator that attracts their customers. For this candle maker, once fragrance was identified as most important to customers, marketing and product focus could be placed on what they are really good at. A win-win!

Ask Your Customers What Customers Want

Of course, every successful business thinks they understand their customers. But there’s no substitute for the insight gained by asking customers directly what they care about when making a purchasing decision. Usually, intuition isn’t terribly far off from reality—but the subtle differences are what turns good marketing into great marketing, and a top-notch product experience that will have your customers happily getting the word out about your product.

Do you want to have banner sales, great messaging, and an industry-leading product experience? It’s not easy, but it is simple—ask your customers what they want!

Last edited: 1/27/2023