I read an article recently on HBR about how empathetic managers, those who believe they identify well with customers, project their needs and wants on customers when making marketing decisions. This occurs even if the target customer has a different profile from the marketer himself. As marketers, many times we assume that we know our customers, but many times are thoughts around our customers come from surface observation, and what we think we know of them as we encounter people from our daily lives who fit the profile of our target customer.
This is interesting research because it confirms what we already know is happening in the marketing world. Sometimes, when a marketer identifies with his target customer on one dimension (for example, the target customer is a male age 25-35 with kids and the marketer is male age 40-50 with kids, so let’s say both are defined as “dads”), marketers assume the target customer is a reflects preferences and purchase behaviors akin to the marketer. So these marketers, even if they intend well, ignore market research or do away with studies completely because they think the information they will gain from consumer studies are already made apparent by their personal knowledge.
I see this a lot of times, both in the B2C and B2B spaces. Brand managers in B2C companies think they know the customer because they themselves tend to be consumers of the products they are trying to sell. Managers in B2B companies think they understand the customer like nobody does because most of the time their customer is very specific to their business, and as business professionals in a B2B company, they readily think their target customer is just like them.
This type of bias that one already knows the customer limits the type of research we can do that would benefit the client in learning more about their customer. It’s easy to fall into thinking that we already know the customer as well as their needs and wants, because we feel we identify with them. I’d like to think I’m an empathetic person, so I fall into this kind of thinking, but the researcher in me adds a rational layer and interrupts this thinking with the profound need for proof that the target customer indeed shares the profile, interests, needs and wants that we project on them.
And this is why I like hard data so much, since it balances out preconceived notions and makes us look at the situation more logically, and we come away with a broader perspective than what we would normally have under conditions when data is lacking.