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Knowing your customers means insight over data

Old-fashioned listening is the best method to gain knowledge of your customers and build successful campaigns – the data and analytics can come later, argues Katherine Almond

There’s an old strategy for getting to know customers that’s virtually guaranteed to succeed. Listen to them. 

Sounds straightforward, but having a proper conversation with customers and really listening to them feels like a dying art. That’s because B2B audiences are more complex than ever. By its nature, B2B targets niche products and services towards small audiences that comprise diverse segments. 

Today it’s often seven or more different stakeholders, each holding sway on the purchase decision. Procurement, HR, finance and IT not only have their own worries and motivations, they also vary massively from industry to industry. This is perhaps why B2B has developed a reflex to reach for a data solution, without doing the hard foundation-building first.

Human insight

At B2B Ignite 2018, I spoke to a young marketing director. New to her role, she came to the event looking for ways to activate and measure her activity. She spoke to eight different martech vendors, sat through four sessions on data strategy, and said to me: “I still can’t see how any of it is going to be more effective than getting on the phone and talking to people.”

I had to agree. When I hit the road with our clients’ sales people, or I’m in a pub buying rounds for my focus group of electricians, it’s not data 
I’m seeking, it’s insight. To really know customers, there’s no substitute for getting out there and actually having a chat. Because marketing is about people. Marketing to people is about insight. And data is not insight.

Don’t misunderstand. We deliver complex international B2B campaigns for global brands, and all of them incorporate data analytics at some stage. But they aren’t built on data. As a creative agency, we build on human insight.

"To really know customers, there’s no substitute for getting out there and actually having a chat"

The art of listening

That insight comes qualitatively, through two-way conversations with our clients’ customers, former customers, disgruntled customers, sales people, internal stakeholders. We interview them all. It takes time, effort and specific skills. There’s a skill to getting people to open up, an art to ‘listening to the unsaid’, while paying attention to everything that is said, rather than just the bits that confirm your hypothesis.

But that’s how you build a foundation for brands to resonate emotionally. How you ensure you’re offering audiences something they truly want, in the way they want it. Talking to people is how you find out what they think, how they feel, what worries them and what gets them hot under the collar. It’s how you get to know customers. And how you build brands they’ll love. 

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