Accurately Measuring Customer Behaviors

What makes a customer purchase a particular product, make a particular decision, or be more or less satisfied with either? Sometimes the answers are intuitive and predictable, such as when a customer simply chooses good products or services at or near the lowest price. In that circumstance, understanding consumer behavior is fairly easy. We all understand why WalMart is successful, for example. Unfortunately, that is as black and white as it gets, and other scenarios are shades of grey.�

Before a customer makes a judgment regarding your products or services, they may have been exposed to multiple advertising or marketing messages from you and your competitors over a period of time. They may have been given a referral from a nephew at a recent party or an executive at a recent board meeting. Or they may have had a poor or a good customer service experience. The list is endless. Understanding the impact of all of these factors on a customer's perceptions, judgments and behaviors is what marketing research attempts to do. This understanding gives companies the power to make changes that will lead to positive impressions and customer buyingpatterns.

As a recent and interesting example of attempting to better understand customer behavior, one major market research company has gone so far as to build a panel of 10,000 people. These consumers have agreed to provide access to their Internet surfing behaviors and their monthly credit card, checking account, wireless and residential phone bills in order to build the "Ultimate Consumer Research Panel" that can track purchasing patterns in a way previously not possible. With this tool, they can theoretically link purchases to specific exposures and events over time.�

Have you seen the futuristic movie "Minority Report" with Tom Cruise? It shows a future where electronic billboards could identify his character and provide him with customized messages, addressing him by his first name. Well, as a twist on that theme, media industry heavyweights Nielsen and Arbitron are now pilot testing a wearable device that picks up codes included in many broadcasts that identify the media type, message and total time of the wearer's exposure. The benefit of the two methodologies above is that the information is collected directly as opposed to self- reported by panelists, resulting in a more accurate measurement of actual exposure.�Combining both together leads to even more interesting possibilities.�

Perhaps the more fundamental question is why the Ultimate Consumer Research Panel was ever created. The answer to that question is interesting and complicated, and represents one of the easiest and most common of marketing research mistakes -- measuring how customers actually behave, rather than how your company thinks they will behave or even how customer say they will behave. There can sometimes be significant differences between assumed, reported and actual customer behaviors.�

Do you know how much media your customers are exposed to, or what is important to them as potential buyers? Are you sure? Excellent examples of this issue can be found in buyers of new cars and corporate IT products, who both mention price as a leading factor in the purchase process, but upon further analysis, reveal that reliability and functionality (safety) are more important.�

The primary goal of the initial phase of any research project should be to determine whether sufficient knowledge and confidence exists that you can accurately measure responses to the right questions, or whether additional up-front research and strategic development is needed. The survey must accurately measure all of the critical behavioral drivers (or media exposures) if it is going to produce a successful program with actionable results. If you offer products or services in a mature market or have industry pundits at your disposal, perhaps you are able to enumerate all of the potential factors and focus on only those with highest impact. If not, additional up-front developmental work may be needed to understand drivers more definitively, and the following techniques may be appropriate:

  • Historical Survey Data Analysis

  • Employee Brainstorming

  • In-Depth Interviews (with key employees or customers)

  • Focus Groups

  • A baseline Survey

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