Oh dear, there it is again: somebody else pushing data over common sense. Paul B. Brown, on Forbes.com, writes:
data from your customers is always better than your best intuition.
Wait, what? Did he really say that?
Not that Steve Jobs was right on everything, but I can’t resist my favorite Jobs quote here:
It’s not the customers’ job to know what they want.
Paul Brown tells a story of a mouse pad combined with paper that he thought was a great idea, he bought, he used, and he didn’t like. He suggests that asking customers would have been better than guessing.
Talking to customers, sure; great. Data from customers? Not so much.
My problem is that so-called “data from customers” is rarely truth. Data gathering is plagued with problems of research design, random lists, skewed questions, half truth and innuendo disguised as data. If it were really good data, the real result of actually talking to customers, that would be pretty good. But seriously, how often are customer polls and primary research really valid? Seldom.
And ironically, his story argues for using the darn thing, not polling potential customers. He says he liked the idea until he actually used it. I think that’s a clue. No?
My career has been software, and I can tell you this: The best software comes from people who use what they create. Not from customer data.
The problem with thinking like this is that then data ends discussion and trumps common sense. Which would be okay, most of the time, if so-called data were truth. But it rarely is.
I just have to say: wow! How much money are they spending on this survey, and how completely useless is it. A couple of pages in, it comes to a page asking me to choose three things from a list of things that this company does better than any other provider.
I balk at that. I’m a user, and a customer, and I don’t think that company does even one of these things better than any other provider. Literally. If I didn’t like them, I wouldn’t use them. But they are a compromise between competing features. So what happens:
I tell them the truth. I check none of the boxes. I write it into the “Other (please specify)” area on the form.
And the survey stops. Dead. Nope, you, user, can’t continue your survey until you tell us the three things we do better than any other provider. So I’m gone, out of the survey, writing this blog post, far more amused than annoyed.
Seriously, though, somebody charged with marketing came up with the bright idea of a survey, spending company resources, that pushes people for empty meaningless results. Or is this a hidden weapon in marketing-management politics, maybe, that the survey pushers wanted to prove how good they are with faked results proving they’re good?
But they don’t have my results included. At this point, like they say on the TV show, “I’m out.”
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.
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.
This is a problem I’ve struggled with for more than 20 years: ideally, does product development lead, listen, or both? Is the ideal developer a crabby older sibling who knows better, or a compliant servant? Do you build what’s good for the customer, or what the customer wants?
They aren’t always the same thing. Think about how software becomes so feature-rich that it slows to a crawl and drives its users crazy. Isn’t that because developers listen to customers, and every customer wants some additional bell or whistle, so they add them all in? Think about leading word processors and spreadsheets, and all the different things they can do.
A few years ago I wanted to publish a presentation tool (software) that wouldn’t let its users do boring bullet point text-filled slides. It would have defaulted to a big graphic and a title for each slide, and allowed occasional very big type-size bullet points, so only a few would fit. I couldn’t get that idea to fly, so I dropped it. How were we going to tell people they couldn’t add more text?
And if you want a very broad example, visible almost everywhere, take restaurants. What do you think? Do most restaurants lead, by giving customers excellent healthy food, at the expense of flavor? Or do they give customers not-so-healthy food full of not-so-healthy ingredients, but that tastes better?
Returning to the United States to live in Palo Alto in 1981, after 10 years living in Mexico City, I looked for the occasional high-end Mexican restaurant offering good Mexican food (such as real ceviche, to name just one menu item) instead of greasy stereotyped burrito stuff. I talked once to an entrepreneur who tried. “The buying public won’t let it happen,” she said. “People think of Mexican as cheap and greasy, not good food.” (Happily, this has changed somewhat in the 20+ years since; I had real ceviche at Ola in Miami and at Cevicheria La Mar in San Francisco last month. Both are good restaurants.)
So here’s the question: what are you going to do? Listen to customers? Lead by giving the world what it needs, whether it wants it or not? Or both? Which is more successful? Which is more satisfying?