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Brush Your Teeth, Make Your Bed, Talk to Consumers

[Big Ideas Series] Creating a new habit of customer-centricity by connecting with consumers on a regular basis throughout the insights process for deeper understanding.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Jim Longo will be speaking at IIeX Europe (February 19-20 in Amsterdam). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX EU. Click here to learn more.

Increasingly, many brands talk about “customer obsession” and “consumer-centricity” as central to their culture (we’re curious to hear Jacob Ayoub present Customer-Obsessed Culture: How Insights Transformed Salesforce at IIeX EU ‘18 to learn how Salesforce see the role of customer obsession in their business). Most brands would like to claim a customer-centric culture. At the same time, most admit that they struggle with operationalizing the actions necessary to realize this goal across their organization.

Central to the success of any new product is how well it addresses a consumer need. Often, Innovation teams have served as the “voice of the customer” champions within their organizations. However, this meant that the process of inviting consumers into the process tended to be limited to the early, ideation stages of new product development, rather than habituated to everyday business processes.

Similarly, “voice of the customer” has often been regulated as part of rigourous and time consuming qualitative research projects, managed strictly in the Insights stack, abandoned when the need for answers is immediate.

Regular, democratized access to consumers can empower innovation leads, researchers, marketers and brand managers, and all stakeholders in the brand’s success. A regular, repeatable process for engaging consumers and developing a greater understanding of consumers’ needs enables the organization to build and deliver better, more successful products and customer experiences.

But how can brands achieve this practically, at scale and embed the process as a habit in the way all teams approach their daily activities?  

At its most simplistic, the way to engage with consumers is pretty basic: talk to people. But the lack of a practical platform to enable consumer conversations have tended to compartmentalize conversations, facilitated and interpreted through the Insights teams. Without a technology platform, global consumer conversations would not be practical, affordable, nor could stakeholders access the results for further analysis and activation.  

But what if we had such a platform that could empower both trained researchers to engage in  rigorous research and other stakeholders access consumers for ad hoc, spontaneous conversation, when either a gut check or a quick observation was what was most important?  Such platforms now exist, and they draw technology, like live video, that is ubiquitous and familiar to consumers and brand stewards alike. These platforms enable fast, easy access to consumers around the world for conversations in their own environments.  

So the question is how can brands harness these tools to literally institutionalize the practice of the more stakeholders in the organization talking to consumers on a regular?  

What does it take for regular consumer engagement to become part of your marketing and innovation “basic hygiene” habits?  

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that there are three main components to habit formation: cue, routine, and reward.

The cue is the thing that prompts you to act.

We have seen myriad cues prompt conversations in our clients’ business processes. Some teams mandate conversations before planning and strategic meetings, so as to inform their decisions based on more than assumptions. One client VP schedules conversations before every trip he takes out of the country, to start to build his comprehension of that culture. And others have set a program in motion that proactively schedules and adds conversations to the business calendars for the entire teams at a regular cadence, truly systematizing the consumer engagement process.

The routine, in this case, is speaking with consumers on a regular basis. As consumer conversations are habituated into the regular processes of brands’ stakeholder teams, they become natural and not something to be restricted to any one team of stage gate in innovation milestones. This is the hardest part – old habits, or the lack of them – are hard to change. But once the value is perceived and socialized through the organization by champions and advocates, routine can take hold.  

The reward? It includes deeper consumer understanding, discovery of key insights, which can inform decision making and result in better products, consumer experiences, and more successful marketing.

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