Look at Customers Carefully… They Aren’t Necessarily You!

Despite the benefits market research provides in aiding marketers in making more informed decisions, the reality is that customer data is a luxury for many small and medium sized businesses. Customer insight usually comes from face-to-face interactions, but the opportunity to drill down deeper to learn from customers through focus groups, interviews, or surveys can be beyond a firm’s resource capabilities. Thus, we are often left to make judgments about customers based on experience gained from serving customers and competing in the marketplace. The danger of this approach to customer analysis is that it is easy to view customers through the lens of our own generalizations, and even stereotypes of our customers. The gap between consumer behavior and a marketer’s view of the customer can be exacerbated when there is disparity in characteristics between customer and marketer.

An example of how this difference in characteristics might play out can be found in a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. In a survey about the necessity of different electronic and entertainment tools, only 46% of consumers 18-29 years-old said a landline phone was a necessity while 59% a cell phone was a must have. In contrast, 30-49 year-olds favor landlines, with 62% saying a landline phone is a necessity compared to 51% for cell phone. An even more pronounced difference between the two age groups was in their views of television as a necessity. Twice as many 30-49 year-olds said TV was a necessity than their younger 18-29 counterparts (58% and 29%, respectively).

The concern raised here is that if marketers make decisions based on what they think customers want or prefer, it is possible that personal biases will cloud effective decision making. Age-related differences in particular are a potential source of making incorrect assumptions. If marketing management ranks are staffed largely with 30-somethings and 40-somethings (or older), is their intuition about younger customers on target? I am not suggesting they are incapable of having a good understanding of younger consumers; I am merely pointing out the possibility of age differences leading to misguided analysis. After all, managers who come from a generation raised on TV may have trouble fathoming that people would not view TV as a necessity. However, the reality is many Millennials feel adequately connected to the world with computers and smartphones.

Pew Research Center - "The Fading Glory of the Television and Telephone"

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