An article in the most recent issue of the Harvard Business Review (“Rethinking Marketing”) argues that marketing is shifting from being product-centric to being customer-centric. The old method was to develop a portfolio of products, build a team around each product, find the customers who need that product and market it to them. The emerging method is to build teams around customer relationships, continually learn about what those customers need, then design and deliver solutions to them.
Not only will this shift from product marketing to customer marketing enhance the ability of businesses to deliver value to their customers and shareholders, but it will likely help market researchers bring higher levels of value to the work they do for their clients. Why? Because market research is fundamentally about people. We are trained as social scientists, and have expertise in understanding peoples’ needs, aspirations, and pain points. We help businesses understand the opportunities to help people, and of course, to sell to them.
In contrast, a product-centric approach to marketing forces an uncomfortable relationship with market research because the business is overly focused on products. Researchers interview people to get data, but they spend a great deal of time measuring and tracking information about products rather than customers, focusing on brand attributes, perceptions of products, awareness and usage of one service over another, and so on. Have you ever filled out a survey (or designed one!) and wondered why most questions are not really about customers and what they need? Instead surveys are often focused on satisfaction with brands, words that convey the personalities of brands, preferences for one brand over another, and so on.
The HBR authors suggest that brand managers and product managers will be replaced in the future by customer managers, and that customer managers will look a lot like the types of people currently in market research. To quote the authors:
We’d expect the most effective customer managers to have broad training in the social sciences—psychology, anthropology, sociology, and economics—in addition to an understanding of marketing. They’d approach the customer as behavioral scientists rather than as marketing specialists, observing and collecting information about them, interacting with and learning from them, and synthesizing and disseminating what they learned. For business schools to stay relevant in training customer managers, the curriculum needs to shift its emphasis from marketing products to cultivating customers.
With our deep training in social science and expertise in understanding people, Versta Research can help you make the transition to a truly customer oriented approach to doing business. Give us a call at (312) 348-6089; we would be happy to share our thoughts and perspectives on some of the specific problems you are facing, and we would be happy to share with you a copy of the HBR article as well.
Joe Hopper, Ph.D.