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Why Listening to Your Customers Matters

Okay, there are far more reasons to pay close attention to customer opinions than what I’m about to present, but this one’s as good a reason as any. According to a joint study (PDF) by LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Interactive, there’s a pretty wide gap between what marketing professionals and customers think are effective advertisements. (See coverage by AdWeek here.)

The Harris poll explores two main questions: general effectiveness of advertising type, and ads addressing the economic crisis. It’s never explicitly stated, but the poll appears to be focused on TV advertising. Whether or not that’s true, the results can likely be extrapolated to other advertising media.

In terms of general effectiveness, the three biggest gaps are for ads that make the viewer stop and think, that provide new information, and that are integrated into the look and feel of the show they appear with.

  • More than half of marketers (53 percent) think ads that make the viewer stop and think are very effective, but just 30 percent of viewers feel that way. That’s a 23 percent margin, for those of you scoring at home.
  • Ads that provide new information are only slightly close to the mark: 51 percent of marketers versus 29 percent of viewers feel they’re very effective, a 22 percent gap.
  • Ads that are integrated into the feel of a program (The MythBusters build team and their Diesel Diaries commercials for Volkswagen are the best example I can think of) fare particularly poorly, in my opinion. While the gap is “only” 19 percent (26 percent of marketers vs. 7 percent of viewers), it’s a ratio of 3.7:1 which tells me money and effort is being wasted. Informative ads, according to Harris, have 37 percent of marketers and 30 percent of viewers saying they’re very effective, so for every $37 spent you could say that $30 is going to the right place. With integrated-feel ads, every $37 spent equates to $10 spent well. This is not the mathematics of success.

I must say I am shocked—shocked—to discover that marketers don’t have their fingers firmly on the pulse of the people they’re trying to attract.

No, actually I’m not shocked at all.

Let’s be fair to marketers, though. They (as a profession) have had to adjust in recent years to a demand from the C-level for measurability and accountability. (Excellent article from 2007 here;  fresher commentary here.) It’s not an easy thing to have to make wholesale changes to the way you ply your craft, but the marketing department has done so. Now they’re being asked to adjust again, using not only new techniques but new media as well.

“Tough,” you say. “Change is part of growth, so why should anybody get to make excuses?” (I hope somebody said that, otherwise I look like a jerk.) When you’re learning new things while still expected to deliver something useful, you tend to fall back on old habits, good or otherwise. For too long, marketing’s job was to create markets for products—conjuring demand for new products, rather than answering existing demand. This led members of the profession to sometimes value their own opinions over those of the public. This happens when ANY group of insiders/experts becomes too insulated, but marketers have been singled out in recent years as the prime example.

The disconnect between marketers and the marketed-to is just one more reason why social media needs to be integrated into any smart CRM practice. Rather than spending advertising and marketing money on extended campaigns only to find out months later that they’re a failure, the CMO and her team can find out within hours or days whether their efforts have gone awry. Sure, you don’t pull a campaign because of negative initial reactions alone—sometimes a spot needs to grow on people—but in the long run companies will save precious budget and deliver what customers want to see far more effectively.