The dirty little secret of customer insights

The dirty little secret of customer insights

“No one wants to see dirt.”

When James Dyson was pitching his new vacuum cleaner with its revolutionary clear plastic container, retailers warned him off, telling him that no one wants to see dirt. This was confirmed in market testing when consumers baulked at the notion of seeing their own filth but despite this Dyson famously persevered.

According to Forbes his company made $2 billion in revenue this year and his personal wealth is estimated at $4.4 billion. Apparently lots of people want to see dirt after all.

I thought of Dyson last week when I was on a panel at a retail accounting forum. There was much talk in the session prior about customer data and the importance of asking the customer what they want. But as Dyson (and others like Apple) have shown, the dirty little secret of customer insights is that often customers don’t know what they want and their past data can’t predict reaction to a new concept.

Given these two challenges, where can we turn as business people to get a sense of what customers are likely to do in the future without asking them?

Behavioural economics

As I wrote in a previous article (“Why you should ignore what customers say they want”), behavioural economics is the closest thing we have to forecasting behaviour. It is the study of how decision-making behaviour is influenced by a person’s social, cognitive and emotional context, based on observed rather than self-reported responses. In other words, “what we do when…”

The model I use to showcase how all the different customer insights fit together is as follows:

So as I stated on the panel, and my central message to you as a business is to worry less about what customers tell you and more about how what they do changes in response to the context (your shop, office, website, offer, ad) you create for them.

Hat tip to Fastcocreate for the Dyson insight.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.



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