One of my favorite visits as a young person was to the House Of Mirrors at the amusement park. It fascinated me how the mirrors distorted the way we looked and how they reshaped our faces. Having fun with facial and body gestures to make myself look even more different.
Companies today, if not intent on understanding their buyers, can fall victim to their own House Of Mirrors. Having a very distorted view of buyers than that of reality. The buyer becoming a reshaped reflection of the way people internally view and think about customers.
Corporate-Referential View Of Buyers
Corporations today need to be on guard for viewing the world of customers and buyers only through internal corporate eyes. Unintentionally engaging in a corporate-referential view of buyers. Seeing the world, both theirs and that of customers, in terms of how the corporation may view the world.
Many organizations struggle with customer-focused initiatives and programs due to this very reason. Unable to recognize the significant gap that can exist between how customer-focused they think they are and how customer-focused their customers perceive them to be in reality.
As organizations adapt to an expanding global and digital economy, cultural differences in how customers and buyers view the world will become more impactful. Requiring companies to understand the cultural context of the world in which their customers and buyers live in. While digital technologies help bring uniform ways of connecting, they may have little impact on bringing uniformity to cultural elements.
Mental Framing Of Goals
As customers and buyers engage in goal-directed behaviors in making buying decisions, they are often accompanied by the mental framing of their goals and decisions. Mental framing is related to how customers and buyers see the world. Developing mental frames and models of how the world is supposed to work.
How buyers mentally frame their goal-directed behaviors and buying decisions is often a melding of many elements. These elements typically pertain to attitudes, perceptions, experiences, norms, culture, protocols, and values – among the many possibilities. Melding together to form a view of the world, which directly influences how and why buying decisions are made.
The implications to an organization and to marketers, sellers, and product management can be significant. For instance, how a marketing team may view the world may be very different than how a customer base of supply chain managers and executives may view the world. In one particular buyer persona research and development effort with a supply chain application provider, mental framing proved to be a big factor in the utility industry.
While the product marketing team believed efficiency and inventory control were what mattered, utility supply chain managers viewed the world in terms of two critical elements. These two elements were, one, the ability to respond quickly to a disaster and the second being that of ensuring the safety of emergency repair personnel. Thus, goal-directed behaviors and the mental framing of buying decisions were filtered through these powerful mental elements.
The problem marketing and sales can run into, in cases like the one mentioned, is how they present and converse about their offering can mismatch the world view of the customers and buyers they are trying to reach.
Avoiding The Mismatch
To avoid such mismatches, organizations will need to learn the capabilities of looking at the world through the eyes of their customers. This is very different than concepts related to the voice of the customer or just listening to your customers. Just listening alone can lead to a false sense of an organization believing it is customer-focused when, in fact, there is a significant gap between how customers view the world and how organizations see the world.
How does this look? For instance, many customer-listening efforts, as well as buyer persona efforts, are framed within corporate-referential views of customers. Whereby what an organization wants to hear or listen for from customers is predetermined. Thus, an organization is only listening for the things it wants to hear.
This is currently running rampant in the misrepresentations of buyer personas. Whereby “insights” are predetermined and efforts are designed to “listen for “ insights, which are informational facts instead. Listening for already established information such as initiative, risks, criteria, and etc. instead of hearing and seeing the world through the eyes of the customer. Ending up with very corporate-referential buyer personas contributing very little to informing an organization on how to draw closer to the customer.
On The Other Side
To see the world through the eyes of customers and buyers requires organizations to literally get on the other side. Meaning, engaging in qualitative and ethnographic-based research with an emphasis on uncovering often unarticulated mental frames and models. Which, have a direct impact on how and why buying decisions are made – and should be an essential element of buyer research and buyer persona development.
Organizations can be ill-equipped to “get on the other side” with their customers. Lacking in the skill sets and experience required. And, what can often be the case is to achieve true unfiltered objectivity means the use of a neutral third party. This, however, should not be a reason to forgo such an increasingly important aspect of understanding customers and buyers deeply.
Organizations who can achieve looking at the world through the eyes of their customers can attain another important benefit. They will be able to empathize by walking in the shoes of their customers. But, when they do, they will not walk blindly with a false sense of a customer walking in their world. They will walk with a customer in the world in which they live and see.
(What follows is a talk by Fabian Sixtus Korner, an architect and documentary film-maker, who talks about what he learned through his travels – and – seeing the world through the eyes of others.)