Why CEOs Need to Sleep With Their Customers

By junipernelly / / Fast Company’s Martin Lindstrom recently wrote an article stressing the importance of brands sleeping with their customers. i.e. While these depictions always make for a fun Saturday night (save the hamburger bed, I don’t even know what’s going on there), this isn’t exactly what Lindstrom had in mind. What he means is, Brands need to get up close and personal with consumers. In his article he questions, how well do you know your consumer? How well would you say you know your consumer–not just the broad-stroke stuff, either, like their income or marital status. How many of them brush their teeth in the shower? (Answer 4% of the general consumer populace.) How many of the teenagers routinely grab a box of cereal on their first day at college, empty it into a bowl and then begin munching away? (Answer: 37% of first-year students, and it makes them feel closer to home.) Why do so many women bypass the first toilet in the bathroom mall and urgently head directly into the second stall? (Answer: It seems the majority of women believe that the second seat is the cleaner one. Ironically, this leaves the first toilet relatively untouched, and many a toilet in the first cubicle still bears the “sanitized for your protection” notice.) Stupid questions, silly insights, right? But they’re relevant questions and interesting answers if you’re in the business of selling toothpaste, dental floss, breakfast foods, or sanitizing liquids–all items which are part of the $100 billion personal care business. Personal care brands are extremely similar to one another. Many toothpaste, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and dish soap brands generally have related characteristics, yet these products with parallel functions, tend to have the highest level of brand loyalty. One would think that since these products are alike, consumers would just pick any ole’ brand off the shelf. Anyone remotely in-sync with the advertising realm knows this isn’t the case. We aren’t dealing with the iTunes approach, “hey if you like Colgate you might like Crest.” Advertisers will go to great lengths to make you believe that Dawn is the end all be all of dish soaps. As a result I am a brand loyalist to Aquafresh, Charmin, All, and Joy. In a market with such comparable products and an affinity for brand loyalty, advertising is the one thing that separates Scott from Bounty and Tide from Wisk. This is exactly why it’s so important for brands to know the ins and outs of their consumers. Instead of finding the one characteristic that differentiates a product from the others, advertisers are using the unique emotional needs of their consumers, clinging to them with the hopes that their ad will really hit home with their target market. Lindstrom uses an example of this in his article. He was asked to help an ailing coffee brand in the Philippines. The brand had used the rainy season of the Philippines to connect to their audience, using the sight and sound of rain in their advertisements. For years the major coffee manufacturer in the region had attempted to run an advertising campaign during the rainy season. It’s traditionally a time of celebration, and if a coffee brand could “own” this, it would be a license to print money. The coffee company had run an expensive television campaign featuring smiling people drinking the brew in the shelter of their homes while rain pitter-pattered down on the roof. To everyone’s surprise, it seemed the association with the rainy season was a major turn-off. Sales decreased, and in turn left everyone baffled. Instead of relying on general market research, gawking at colorful charts and pie-graphs emblazoned across his computer screen, Lindstrom decided to truly get to know his consumers. Why not try living with them? Just before the annual rains were due, I headed off to Manila to work out why. To everyone’s surprise, the first thing I requested was to move in with a local family. Over the next 10 days I spent time in five different family homes, singing, talking, eating and, of course, drinking a lot of coffee. My agenda was to understand the psychology of the rainy season. One night, as the rain hammered against the tin roof, it occurred to me that the sound of the rain in the commercials had been misrepresented. In the ads that went to air, the rain was created from stock sounds, great in Hollywood movie, but far removed from the realities of the average Filipino family. The sound wasn’t right, and so the emotional stirrings the brand had hoped to evoke, simply did not occur. I immediately set out to record the very sound I was hearing beating against the tin roof. I emailed it to the production company and played the revised commercial for the next family. It brought them to tears. Sound was the missing piece in the emotional puzzle, and the following rainy season, coffee sales increased by 19%. I do not doubt that simply altering the sound of a spot can lead to the demise or rise of a brand. Using the five human senses often evokes deep emotional connections and memories for people. My mother has always worn a perfume called Poison and my father constantly chews spearmint Chiclets. I once found myself following a woman around Macy’s who was wearing the same fragrance as my mother, and smelling spearmint Chiclets is often enough to bring me to tears. If an advertiser managed to lasso these emotions of mine, they could create a lifelong user out of me. Maybe they should consider shacking up with me for a bit? It seems that Lindstrom is on to something here. I can see it now, the next trend in advertising market research – live-in marketers. Ogilvy&Mather and Wieden+Kennedy interns will be sent to live with target demographics to study their every move. Royce will have the time of his life studying 18-23 year old college women with a tendency to party and rebel against their parents, collecting data for a new female friendly energy drink, while Bernie gets the short end of the stick closely documenting 45-54 year old women who enjoy watching TLC and own upwards of 32 cats as a test market for purple PT Cruisers.