Daniel Burstein

Anti-crowdsourcing: On (not) getting marketing ideas from your customers

We’ve written some posts recently about how the customer should be in charge of your marketing (and really perhaps everything you do as a company). And hopefully along the way we’ve provided some helpful advice on how to listen to your customers and provide them real value (which will ultimately lead to greater success for your company).

But…there’s a line. Let’s just say, “the customer is often right.” To help you find that line, let’s take a MarketingExperiments look at…

When not to listen to your customersanti-crowdsourcing for marketers

While writing these customer-oriented posts, I started thinking about Apple and Steve Jobs. After all, their customers said they wanted a tablet computer, but instead Apple gave them an iThingy.

Then Scotty Monty of Ford commented on a recent post about the whole anti-crowdsourcing idea dating back to a famous quote by Henry, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, I would have made a faster horse.”

So, how do you create iPad-and-Model-T-level marketing and avoid producing an Edsel? I think it comes down to a simple (but not easy) three-step process…

STEP #1: Listen (broadly)

“I want a horn here, here, and here. You can never find a horn when you’re mad. And they should all play ‘La Cucaracha.’” – Homer Simpson, designing a car as a an “everyman” customer consultant

When I was young, there were endless commercials for a toy called Spy Tech that supposedly let you eavesdrop on conversations while hiding behind a bush. To a kid, it seemed liked the most impressive piece of technology that could be molded out of plastic.

Today, in the future, you have Spy Tech as well (only now it’s called social media). You don’t have to rely on phone calls coming into a complaint line to judge your marketing. You can listen to pseudo-real conversations taking place (virtually) all over the world. Social media isn’t just a megaphone, it’s also a great phone tap.

In fact, the first piece of advice Chris Brogan gives about Twitter is not to come up with a really cool handle or shout about your latest accomplishments/content/offers in 140 characters or less, it’s to (shhhhhh) – listen. Search Twitter. Join competitors’ groups (on LinkedIn) and fan pages (on Facebook). Follow industry-specific hashtags. Ask questions on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Of course, it’s not all just social media. Really, you’re just looking to download as much info into your cranium from your current and potential customers. So ask yourself how else you can tap into their valuable knowledge? A few other ideas:

  • Conduct surveys and focus groups – Don’t make decisions based solely on these (more on that in Step #3), but a tight set of well-worded questions with a clear end goal of helping the customer can provide valuable info.
  • Call them – Or email. Heck, even send a letter. But tone is important. As MarketingExperiments Research Analyst Corey Trent says, “Ask in a very personal, human fashion to avoid the ‘system-generated message’ feel.”
  • Tap into institutional knowledge – You may not talk to customers every day, but likely someone, somewhere in your organization does. Whether their title is sales executive, customer service rep, flight attendant, or maid, they have unique insights than can help. Of course, take that info with a grain of salt, since it comes through a filter.

Step #2: (stop and) Think

“THINK.” – Thomas Watson

Steve Jobs wants you to think different. Thomas Watson just wants you to flat out think. Either way, your job as a customer-focused marketer is to take the (sometimes contradictory) clay and mold it into the Mona Lisa of marketing campaigns (which is further complicated by the fact that the Mona Lisa isn’t made out of clay).

So step back from everything you’ve been hearing from your customers. Clear your head. Go to a library. Read the classics. Play with the kids. Walk the dog. Pull a Ferris Bueller.

You need to inject some of you into your marketing campaigns. My point being, don’t overly rely on your customers insights, because I’m sure you have essential ideas of your own. Only you understand your marketing goals, your margin, your corporate structure, the internal politics, and how to mix these all together with your customers’ desires to hit just the right note.

By considering then stepping away from everything your customers say they want, you have the chance to come up with a (pseudo) original way to meet all these demands with a marketing campaign that surpasses your goals and makes you proud and perhaps famous…

To remix a famous quote, “There are no original marketing ideas, just ideas the judges at the One Club haven’t seen yet.”

Step #3: Test (and measure)

“Gentlemen, we got 20 calls about the David Hyde-Pierce incident. And as you know, one call equals a billion people, which means 20 billion people were offended by this. Needless to say, something must be done.” – FCC Suit on Family Guy

It’s one thing for your customers to say they want something in a focus group or phone call. It’s quite another for them to actually reach for the wallet and make a purchase.

You need to run real-world, real-time randomized tests to see how your customers actually react to your use of their ideas. The folks in Washington call this a trial balloon.

If you follow a scientific methodology, testing gives you a chance to gain true knowledge into how well your campaign will actually work. If you just listen to customer opinion, you run the risk of releasing a “faster horse,” because, as MarketingExperiments Senior Manager of Research and Strategy, Boris Grinkot, says “You have to be conscious of skewed sampling. People that are upset are the loudest. People that are the loudest may or may not speak for many others.”

Boris mentioned a subtle change in the shopping cart process for a Research Partner that increased conversion. Excellent, right? Well, there was one caveat. They got some kickback about this change creating a “customer-service nightmare.” However, upon digging deeper Boris learned that it was just one upset customer making a big stink on the phone to a manager.

Now, that one upset person can represent many, many more upset people…or not. By designing a series of tests and tracking the right metrics to measure success, you have a full understanding if your spiffy new marketing ideas are moving the needle, which can also help when the manager who just got off the phone with the enraged customer comes barreling down to your office.

In fairness, you need to take into account long-term indicators. If it was just one (or a small handful) of customers, you’re probably OK. But even an entire upset customer base doesn’t necessarily show attrition immediately in the conversion rate. So it really loops back up to Step #1: Listen. If that many people are upset, it will likely show up in other places as well.

So listen…think…test…repeat.

If you’re new to testing and optimization, we have an entire research website and training courses to help you test your ideas.

If you’re an experienced researcher, check out a few test ideas in the Related Resources section that you may not have considered…

Related Resources

Domain/Product Name Testing: Our testing demonstrated that choosing product, service, or domain names based on what you “like” can cost you dearly

What to test (and how) to increase your ROI today

What Else Can I Test…On My E-commerce Or Lead Generation Website?

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Categories: Marketing Insights Tags: ,



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  1. October 1st, 2010 at 04:21 | #1
  2. November 23rd, 2010 at 03:02 | #2