Beyond customer understanding to customer empathy (Brand Vision Part 3)

This 3rd snippet from the Brand Vision book is about going further than just understanding consumers until you create consumer empathy. This is a deeper, more emotional and richer level of consumer insight. I’ve summed it up before as "being the consumer", with the example of Harley Davidson’s management regularly riding with the Harley Owners Group.

The power of this approach is to generate richer insight that leads to more relevant and exciting innovation that really connects with the consumer. Here are some of the ways to create consumer empathy:

1. Go under-cover: most research uses "overt" techniques and direct questioning, with the focus group the most obvious technique. The difficulty with this is getting people to remember their real behaviour. In contrast, consumer empathy involves direct observation and immersion.

For example, by spending time observing consumers taking out mobile
phone contracts, T-Mobile realised that few people actually know how to
respond to the normal question of "How many minutes and texts do you
use a month?". What they did know is roughly how much there bill was.
This led to the creation of Flext, the first contract where you have a
fixed "bucket" of value you can use on any mix of texts or minutes.

2. 3-d consumer portrait: creating empathy means seeing the whole life of the consumer, not just their narrow behaviour as a buyer of your product or service. It also means using more that just socio-demographics such as age and social class to describe people. Its scary how many teams still have a target along the lines of "25-55 urban women who are buyers of…".

To get a more colourful picture it helps to start with peoples’ attitudes to life in general, and their "passion points". You can then move on to look at their needs from the market. When we did this for the Top Gear brand, the core user was into "boys’ banter down the pub", "one-upmanship" and being "a step ahead". They were also into "boys’ toys and gadgets", not just cars. This understanding is reflected in the content of the magazine (e.g. features on technology) and the style of the editorial.

3. Ongoing insight: consumer empathy comes from seeing insight as an ongoing process, not just a sporadic one. This can include working regularly with consumers, such as the week every senior manager spends in a store. Or it can be capturing and actually using consumer feedback, which is how Pret a Manger came up with a better soup product.

4. Hire the right people: all of the above becomes much easier when you hire people who either are the consumer (Nike) or at least have a real interest in the category. In a recent post I talked about how one of the reasons for the Gap’s crisis was having a CEO who didn’t like wearing jeans to work. A good example is the way Nike only hire people actively involved in sport.

Other tips and tricks?