Understanding Customer Behavior | Customer Insight Expert Maurice Allin | AQ’s Blog & Grill

Understanding Customer Behavior | Customer Insight Expert Maurice Allin | AQ’s Blog & Grill

Announcer: AQ’s Blog and Grill. Interviewer: Welcome to AQ’s Blog and Grill.
We are really lucky today to have a guest of Maurice Allen caliber.
Maurice is the Vice President of Strategic Insight
at Quarry Integrated Communications, and we’re going
to talk about insight and how can it be used strategically. So welcome,
Maurice. Maurice: It’s nice to be here. Interviewer: Well, it’s great to have you,as
I just said. So the title, the role is about strategic insight.
Now can you help us understand what does that mean
in terms of what you do and how you contribute to brand building? Maurice: I’ve been trying to figure that out
for 16 years myself. It’s a really good question. Insight is about
ultimately making a difference. And strategic insight is about
making a difference at a strategic level. So what we’re really trying
to do here or what I see about my job is not to make a
direct impact on every little decision that the
creative team makes or the web development team makes to help guide
the relationship between the desired customer or consumer for a
brand and the development of that brand itself. So really, Insight in this case, is all about
understanding the interaction between the brand and the
customer in a way that’s material to making it actionable to
improve that relationship. Interviewer: Okay. Great, so have you found
that the clients of today, have they moved forward into not thinking
about the brand as products and thinking more about
the customer and their relationship with the brand? Maurice: Great question. There are clients
who have moved forward by great leaps and bounds in that area, meaning
that they are much more in tuned with the idea
of the customer and the customer experience. We still encounter lots of companies, lots
of brands which are really products in disguise. Now the interesting
thing that I find about that is that where I’ve seen
the greatest gains made has actually been in the B-to-B world.
Traditionally B-to- B brands have been products first and a
little bit of brand after the fact. And what we see is that
the really good B-to-B marketers are really understanding that
there is a relationship between their product and the customer that
transcends the technical capabilities of the product and
reaches into that larger experience, and those are the
folks that we really like working with. Interviewer: This buyer experience journey,
how does it get mapped out and is that where you’re using
your strategic insights that you’re gathering? Maurice: I’d say we’re using the buyer experience
journey as kind of the fulcrum for gaining insight. When we
look at the B-to-B part, I think there was originally
a conceptualization that the only thing that
mattered was a set of specs that I present to my perspective customer so that
at that moment of truth when they choose a product,
my specs line up with what they want. What we’ve learned
is that most of the moments of truth that really
count, particularly in a B-to- B world happen after the purchase. So the
buyer journey is not just how I think about my relationship
or potential relationship to a brand. It’s not just about
how I purchase that product, it’s much more about how I live
with that product after I have made that purchase. That’s really the
brand experience part that ultimately is where the brand story
meets the customer’s story. Interviewer: Okay, so brand story, customer
story, let’s delve a little bit into that. Maurice: Let’s talk about that. So there is
tension there. There’s tension between what we would like the brand
to mean and what the brand actually is in terms of
experiential or how people experience it in real life. A great area for
insight is to understand how what you brand idea is and
what the gaps are between the real experience and the
. . . Interviewer: Yeah, this term has been going
around quite a bit right now. So we have brand ethnography, and
we have customer anthropology. Maurice: Brand ethnography is about us understanding
the way our customers interact with our brand. Customer
anthropology is about understanding their motivations and
what they want to be in the absence of our brand. Once we
understand that, we can greater understand the potential interaction
that our brands can have. It’s kind of like, there’s the old Henry Ford
quote that said that if I ask people what they want,
they would have said faster horses. If we look at the
world only through brand ethnography, then we may miss
the real opportunity for the brand. Because the real opportunity happens
in the customer’s mind only. If we try to map that
in too much of a linear fashion, we’re probably going
to miss some opportunities for brand growth and brand expression. Interviewer: You kind of move from the marketing
research and consulting area into strategic customer insight,
strategic brand insight, so have you then given up
quantification all together and it’s all about qualitative now? Maurice: Yeah, so again great question. The
process of qualitative research allow you to get to root cause more
effectively. You can continually probe on the whys. Why
you did you feel that way? Why do you do that? Why did
it matter? Those kinds of questions. The problem is that the qualitative
research doesn’t always create the business case that you need
in order to make something actionable. In that case,
we need the quantification. We need to know how many people actually feel
that way? Will they spend enough money for us to invest
in this kind of a program? And that lead me to the
quantification side. So you to the qualitative to explain
the why and you go to the quant to explain how much. Everybody is talking about big data. Big data
is not going to answer any questions in our world. It will
for some people in a very tactical world. What
it will do though is help us to decide where the best
qualitative questions are to be asked, because we are going to see contradictions.
We’re going to see behavior that don’t line up with
our hypotheses with what we think are the established
paradigms. And when we see those contradictions, then there’s a great
opportunity for saying there is something going on with
this customer that we just don’t understand yet. We need
to dig a little deeper here. Interviewer: So there is some tension that’s
developing. Maurice: Tension is a great word. Interviewer: So how do we then get to understand
what the tension is about and then leverage it to help build
the brand? Maurice: There is the tension between what
our idea of the brand is, the brand essence, and what the experience
is in the field, and that raises two questions. Is it that
our brand can never be what we want it to be or is there
some fault in the experiences that we’re creating can be improved?
Both of those from a research standpoint, in order
to find that insight, we can use both qualitative and quantitative
tools. The second form of insight is the insight
to what we as human beings are, are our tensions between
who we want to be and how we can express that meaning well.
The third tension is the tension between the self story and
how I can make my self story perfect and the actual role of
your brand experience in helping me create that, and that’s the area that’s
most interesting. And frankly it’s the area where
I don’t know how we can apply quantitative tools on
that. For some reason we’re just learning about now through the
application of neuroscience, that those are almost accentually at this stage,
qualitative understandings. Interviewer: How is neuroscience and its advancement
going to affect or innovate within the insight and
the consumer? Maurice: What we’ve learned about neuroscience
is that it’s not so much helping us as is it’s preventing us from
making as many mistakes as we did before. And what that
really boils down to is we’ve learned two really important
things from neuroscience. One is people are much, much
poorer at explaining why they do things than we ever thought. I think
that we also have learned a great thing from neurology
and that is people are much better liars that they
ever thought they were. We were much more concerned with the
lies that people told us in market research. Today we’re much more concerned
with the lies people tell themselves. Interviewer: If you were going into the branding
business these days, what advice would you give to people? Maurice: I think the first thing you have
to learn in order to be a good brander is you have to learn a little
bit about yourself. We have to recognize that people
find it very difficult to express their expectations, their
satisfaction with the interactions that they have with the brand.
In a more formal sense, however, I think that you are
going to see two types of people become much more prevalent
within the branding world in the future. I read an article just yesterday that said
that in the very near future CMOs are going to control
more budget, more investment in IT assets than do CIOs
within a corporation. This is about big data. It’s
about social media. It’s about all of those things that are happening on
the web, and your ability to understand that is going to be
hugely important. The area that I’m drawn to a little bit more
is that of anthropology. I think that the concept of
brand and produce is at its roots anthropological construct. And in order to
be a good brander, we’re going to have to be much
more practice and proficient in that understanding of anthropology. Interviewer: Give me an example if you could
of how that expertise or insight into anthropology could
be leveraged to build a brand. Maurice: So brand is an act of making meaning,
and making meaning is an anthropological construct. It’s the
idea that as I experience something, whether that is a brand
in the conventional way. We think about a can of
coke, a Chevy Impala or whatever, that as we create meaning around this, it
is a primarily cultural phenomenon. The idea of a brand is
not just an expression; it’s a short cut to communicating
what my features and attributes are. It’s a short
cut to communicating what the meaning of this experience is. And that meaning
changes across cultural. Even though we have a unique
brand, and we have a brand essence and an idea of messaging
as we as advertisers want to get out, the way
that that brand constructs meaning is a cultural phenomenon.
And it might be different for downtown hipsters than it is
for middle aged farmers in Midwestern USA. Interviewer: Now when you and I first started
talking about customer insight and consumer behavior, the
account planning model was in merging, it came from
the UK. [inaudible 10:59] I think was the first firm
in the US to kind of grab a hold to it. I guess it must be thriving now.
Is it? Maurice: I was going to say that I only wish
it could be so. We think about the original role of account planning,
it was kind of twofold. The first step was to bring
the voice of the customer into the creative development
process, and then more recently to be almost a steward of that relationship
between the brand and the customer. And that’s where things
started to fall off a little bit, because I think there is some
hubris on the part of many account planners. Certainly not
the good ones, but the ones who are just good enough to be bad, and
that is if I know everything about the customer, by definition
I should know everything about the brand, because the
brand is nothing but a reflection of the customer.
And what I was talking about a few minutes ago, there is a brand
idea, a brand essence and experience. In today’s world, the challenge
of making your brand idea come true in the multi channel,
multimedia, multi everything universe, is an area that deserves its own
attention. Interviewer: And has this evolution then been
a good thing? Maurice: It’s been a necessary thing and it’s
been a good thing. It’s been a necessary thing, because I don’t
think any of us has big enough brains that we can do
the whole thing anymore. It’s been a good thing because
frankly the way the world has evolved particularly the digital universe,
it has given us an avenue to explore the customer
story in a way that it’s actually opened up so much incredible
territory for us to explore. It’s no longer about the
voice of the customer, because the customer can’t always provide
us with his voice or her voice of what they want. It’s
about going beyond what the customer is capable of telling
us and really discovering what they really want,
and that’s where we get the insight. If you simply listen to what the
customers want, that’s not an insight, that’s just taking
notes. Interviewer: Isn’t that a pretty risky exercise
to make the leap from, okay, this is what they’ve told us to
this is what we think the meaning is? Maurice: So two points, capitalism rewards
risk. So it’s about hedging your bets. And I guess the thing I
would say about that more than anything else is that
a customer insight that is actionable and can drive your
brand forward is a momentary leap of faith. What you have to do then is
create a hypothesis around that and subject that hypothesis
to a little more scrutiny. And we do have the
tools and the techniques. We have the qualitative techniques
which are really about the validity of the idea in saying is this true?
Did we misread that ethnography? Did we hear what was going
on? But then there is also for every bit of validity,
we also have to kind of quantify that validity and say
is it going on in enough cases. Interviewer: So, sorry, but I have to ask
you this question, five years from now, where is this thing going
to be? Maurice: So I think the biggest challenge
that we have as marketers is if you were to put together the advantages
we are seeing in neurobiology, neuro marketing, the
advances in big data and analytics, into a small extent
are increase capabilities to do good ethnographic research. We have a capability
to actually run or get beyond our clients and
our brands. I think the biggest challenge is actually helping
our clients to understand how different their
world could be. What we’re seeing with clients that we’re working with
today is that our insight, we’re actually having clients say,
bring us back something a little less insightful. I
can’t change my organization quick enough to take advantage
of this, and God forbid one of my competitors does that instead, but
we’re going as fast as we can. So I actually think we have
to think about the information structure that we create
in order to transmit that insight into our clients’
organizations. It’s not about coming in with a big report anymore.
It’s coming in with a very simple insight construct that
people can go, oh now I get it. Now I can do something about
that. Interviewer: Maurice it’s been great chatting
with you. Maurice: Yeah, it’s been fun. Interviewer: Has it really been fun? Maurice: Yeah, actually it has. Interviewer: It really has been fun. How about
that? You actually wouldn’t think that. Well, thanks for joining
us on AQ’s Blog and Grill today. Maurice Allen, VP, Strategic
Insight for Quarry Integrated Communications, and thanks for coming. Maurice: Thank you.

Author: Kevin Mason

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