In the old days, companies and brands basically dictated what customers wanted. They thought up what customers might want, marketed it, and provided it.
This has basically been the reality until recent years. A change in customer behavior and trends have forced brands to rethink their strategy. Companies that still adhere to the old way of doing things find themselves struggling to keep up.
The new kind of customer
Why is this change in paradigm happening? Customers today have more access to information. One swipe and click, they have what they want to know literally at their fingertips.
This means customers are more discerning. They know what they want, and will not stand for being told otherwise. The customer of today — millennials especially — want more. And given the intense competition in all industries today, there is increased pressure for brands to step up.
This is where the study of consumer behavior comes in. Knowing what the customer feels and thinks is now the new key for any brand’s growth and development. It’s now a battle of psychology. Brands need to be in touch with customers’ reasoning and have to know how customers can be influenced.
Lars Perner is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He says consumer behavior involves “the study of how people — either individually or in groups — acquire, use, experience, discard, and make decisions about goods, services, or even lifestyle practices such as socially responsible and healthy eating.
Influencing customer behavior
Traditional marketing still has a place in the scheme of things, yes. The thing is, it is no longer enough. A deeper approach is needed. One that touches customers where they make their instinctive and automatic decisions.
Build positive perceptions
What do customers think of when they look at your brand? What do they associate with it? These are just some of the questions you need to ask actual customers. Understand that many customers make decisions on the fly. They usually do not have time to spend comparing offerings at length. Much of the battle is in the subconscious, so the more positive the image of the brand, the better.
Know your stuff, and tell it
This is closely tied to creating a positive perception, and comes from establishing trust with your customers. When a brand is seen as reliable in their delivery of experience and quality, customers are drawn to it. Look to brands like Zappos, with their renowned customer service, or Netflix which has positioned itself as the leader for original programming (Which even got them some Emmy Awards). Failing to remind customers regularly of their expertise and experience in their field can be costly.
Look at customer similarities
Individual customers are, in the end, different people. It is however, impossible to cater to each and every individual’s preference. Instead, try to look at what makes them similar. Pick up on common habits and behavioral patterns. Look at common responses to certain cues and triggers. Look at creating a universal theme that a lot of people will be able to relate to. Not to mention that this kind of approach is much more cost-effective.
Consumer behavior data, applied
So how is consumer behavior applied? Let’s look at some of the ways.
Developing marketing strategy
This is where traditional marketing comes in. A perfect example is the ads during Super Bowl. Since a lot of the audience are males, the kind of advertising campaigns also mostly feature male-targeted advertisements. Same during March Madness. Both male-targeted ads and ads that reference the college basketball season dominate.
Basically, it’s about selling an idea instead of selling a product. This means putting a cause or a movement a customer can get behind. A justification of their support for the brand. For example, green / environment friendly products. The idea being sold is one of a better, cleaner planet, so the brand frames its products as the kind that have no negative effects on the environment.
Creating brand ambassadors
This means making your customers not just avail of whatever it is you’re offering but also become advocates of your brand. This is the effect of all the positive associations and perceptions discussed earlier. Customers essentially become free brand ambassadors because they believe in the product/service and the company it’s from. That also lends to more legitimacy, since the enthusiasm for the brand is genuine. For an example, look to Tesla, who dedicates a part of their website for "Customer Stories" from devoted brand ambassadors.
Don’t be left behind
Sadly, the customer experience has become so oversaturated these days. But the good news is that studying customer behavior will be bound to usher in newfound growth. Better products, better services. Companies have everything to lose by failing to listen to what customers really want. Consumer insight is the new driver for brands to continue to move forward into the future.