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September 2, 2009
Are We Out of Touch with Our Customers?
 

Know your customer is advertising's prime directive. Yet in the evolving digital age knowing your customer is harder and harder to do even tough we have many more ways to monitor, watch, listen, react, interact and measure customer behavior.

The newest evidence of the gap between customer and advertiser perceptions comes from a survey of 1015 advertisers and 4546 customers conduced in June by Harris Interactive using the LinkedIn Research Network to qualify and access both panels. The study found that while advertisers are increasing their use of digital advertising at the expense of print and broadcast media, they are not necessarily increasing their insight into or understanding of customers by using interactive channels.

Consider these top line survey results.

Only one in twelve customers (8 percent) find advertising "very interesting."

45 percent of advertisers think Twitter is evolving and has legs as a potential media channel even though 69 percent of customers don't know enough about it or have no opinion. While ad guys are waxing poetic abut Twitter and urging clients to embrace its charms, 9 out of 10 customers don't think it will go mainstream, think its already over or don't know enough about it to have an opinion.

Advertisers peg the effectiveness of nearly all the major characteristics of ads much higher than consumers do. For example there are 20 points of difference in perceptions of ads that make you stop and think, ads that give new information or ads integrated into the feel of the program. The closest perceptions, still separated by a point or two, is the common appreciate for ads that are funny or don't take themselves too seriously.

Consumers hate intrusive ads and universally scorn pop-ups, pages that expand, ads you cannot close or escape, animations with unmutable sound and ads triggered by mouse-overs. And yet 1 in 3 say advertising influenced their last large purchase decision.

Advertisers have missed the impact of the recession on consumers. Advertisers are pushing empathy messages and framing messages that say "we'll all get through this together." While consumers want deals and want ways to have their luxuries for less.

So what does it all mean?

1. We need more ethnographic research. Advertisers are guessing. We are not really in the heads or hearts of customers and we know way too little about online behaviors and sensibilities. At the risk of shilling for Harris Interactive, we all need to invest more in understand mindsets, click streams and evolving online behavior. After 10-12 years of an active commercial Internet, we are not really keeping pace with the inventive and not-so-intuitive ways our customers are using the Internet.

2. Actions Matter More than Words. We have underestimated the impact of the recession. Our customers don't want rhetoric they want help. I suspect fundamental behaviors will be changed as a result of hard times. Advertisers need to focus on this and position themselves as a source of help. Spend your marketing budget strategically on meeting this need not on more lofty messaging.

3. Funny and Expected Trumps Newsy and Intrusive. Customers expect ads. They like the funny and offbeat ads. They know that there is hardly anything that's truly new and exciting. They want them where and how they are used to them. Nobody wants to be captured, buffaloed or cornered by an ad. The more intrusive it is, the more backlash you provoke.

4. We are Not Using the Data We Have. The interactive ad universe gives us the ability to collect and analyze mountains of data., This survey suggests that we are not connecting the dots and using observed and documented behavior to inform strategy or messaging. This might be a result of siloed organizational structures or siloed thinking. But we know and collect much more than we use in crafting approaches and campaigns. And to the extent that we don't mind the data, we miss the boat. We have a way to go before we can make any serious claims about customer intimacy. And before we realize this goal, we have to more effectively use what we already know to achieve great impact and customer engagement.


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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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