Why your marketing needs to be less rational to understand customers

Why your marketing needs to be less rational to understand customers

There’s a false assumption in market research that customers are rational beings, conscious of all their feelings and actions. As advertising legend David Ogilvy stated ‘The trouble with market research is that people don’t think what they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.’ 

Rory Sutherland's 2019 book  ‘Alchemy, The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense’ offers many insights to help business leaders and B2B marketers better understand their customers. Sutherland argues that if you look at customers through a less rational lens you may be able to understand them better. 

Uncover your customers’ unconscious motivations

A great example that Sutherland quotes is Uber. Research on their consumers’ rational needs might have focussed solely on the need for a speedy service rather than less rational, often unconscious motivations. But Uber's real genius is the reduction of anxiety when waiting for a cab. Unlike a phone-booked minicab, you’re not anxiously looking at your watch, uncertain of where your car is. With Uber, it’s there on your mobile, a little animated car on your screen, just two minutes away and coming down the road! So how do you better uncover unconscious motivations in your organisation? Sutherland has a suggestion: Create an atmosphere in your company where people can ask apparently fatuous questions. Asking for example what people hate about taxis might reveal their anxiety about waiting, rather than other more rational issues such as speed and price.

Ask apparently fatuous questions

archieveb2bmarketing 4Let’s take education technology and learning services as an example, an area where I provide marketing services. What would happen if you asked more 'apparently fatuous' questions such as ‘why do people want to learn?’

Recently I’ve seen great examples of companies growing learning services whose focus didn’t seem to follow traditional thinking that the rational, conscious motivation for learning is solely to improve job prospects.

FutureLearn, for example, has tapped into learners' desire for social learning by enabling users to exchange ideas. FutureLearn says it wants to create a learning environment ‘more like a chat with friends about your ideas and what you’ve learned.’

Tap into gamification

Language learning specialist Duolingo puts much of their global success down to the company's gamification strategy, created to keep users returning to the service. I know from my two of my extended family, how Duolingo cleverly creates competition amongst users which acts as a highly effective learning motivator.

The truth is there’s more than one answer for why people want to learn, and it might not be the answer a delegate gives on the feedback form. Asking more creative questions can lead to a better understanding of the real value of your business or learning service.

By better understanding unconscious motivations, you can be better armed to ensure your communications and the product itself offers real value for your customer.

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