Don’t ask people, just watch what they do

by Tom McCallum on February 6, 2011

I’ve been involved with Marketing in many shapes, forms, channels, industries, methods etc for too long to mention. Marketing is fascinating, multi-dimensional and ever-changing, but my experience has taught me that it all begins with this :

Marketing starts with seeing things through the eyes of the customer.

Put another way :

“Art is not what you see, it’s what you make others see- Edgar Degas, French artist (1834-1917)

or :

“O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” – “To a Louse” – Robert Burns, Scottish Poet and National Treasure

Late last year I was at a leadership conference where the keynote was delivered by a fellow GlobalScot, Andy Mooney, head of Disney Consumer Products. You’ve probably never heard of Andy,  but he quietly runs a $42bn company, and his career has seen him work under such leaders as Phil Knight of Nike and Steve Jobs. No, Andy has never worked at Apple, but many forget that with the acquisition of Pixar, Jobs is a Board Director and significant shareholder of Disney, so someone Andy often has to run his marketing and product ideas past.

Steve Jobs is famous for not doing market research prior to product launch, and when Andy Mooney was asked his thoughts on this at the Q&A after his presentation, he noted that he too did not believe in market research before product launch, but certainly believed in post-launch research. Andy also recounted this well known story, from Guy Kawasaki , former Chief Evangelist of Apple and a “Twitter King” :

“When Phillips was thinking of entering the boom box business, it went into market research. This market research involved interviewing teenagers about what color they would like the boom box to be. The basic colors that Phillips wanted to test were screaming yellow versus traditional black. They asked the teenagers what color they would like and all the teenagers said, “Yellow. Screaming yellow.”

At the end of the focus group, Phillips told the kids, “Thank you very much for participating in this study. We are going to give you each a boom box. There are two piles of boom boxes outside; pick one and take it home.” The two piles were black and yellow. Guess which one everybody took home? The black one.

Don’t ask people; just watch what they do.”

Successful marketers all have an innate ability to see through the eyes of the customer. More than that, though, they drill down from that into a powerful thirst for knowledge of what customers want, how they behave, how they research, how they buy.

(The growing field of Behavioural Economics is also increasingly intertwined with Marketing and most top Marketers I know voraciously devour new material in this area as it emerges. If you are interested in starting to read in this area, some of the best known books are on the book list on my LinkedIn profile.)

Steve Jobs and Andy Mooney not using pre-launch Market Research doesn’t make them lazy or arrogant, it means they recognise the power of tapping into the thoughts, knowledge and experience they and their team have gathered from years of having that unquenchable thirst to know how their customers see them. The human mind is incredibly powerful at processing information from different sources to arrive at conclusions, so you may call their approach “Art”, but I’d argue that there is “Science” behind their seemingly intuitive methods.

In Business Coaching parlance, a “Key Learning” from this is something you can take next time you look to hire someone to work in Marketing, or (more common in these straightened times) when looking internally to your existing team to see who can take on a Marketing related role (eg Social Media, Blogging, Google AdWords etc). When looking for that person, I suggest you look first and foremost for evidence that they have a powerful passion for finding out how people think, what they are interested in, how they behave. As an example, I recently met a young Psych major looking for their first job who has just finished a year out after graduating to travel to new countries to satisfy their curiosity about how others live. In that passionate interest in how others think and act, you have the makings of a Marketer.

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