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On the trail of the customer?


On the trail of the customer?

It goes without saying that one of the most critical tasks of a company is to tailor its offer to the wishes and needs of its customers. However, the theoretical, conceptual and operational difficulties associated with solving this task should not be underestimated. And at the same time it should not be overestimated how seriously and conscientiously and with what consistency this task is approached in companies.

The history of marketing goes hand in hand with the ongoing development of “market research”. Ideally, this is how companies find out what the customer wants. But how does it look real? In addition a fictional preparation:

Thursday in the last week of April. The big meeting to present the quarterly market research results is coming up. As always, the largest room is reserved in the executive board area. Two representatives (the majority of the participants are women) from the marketing departments of all major national companies are present. A total of almost 30 people are present.

The company’s head of marketing opens the session. He thanks for the fact that, despite the apparently tight schedule, all corporate divisions invited have sent representatives (he sticks to the masculine address) to today’s quarterly round of presentations. He does not yet know the results of the study, but is certain that it will become clear again that the company’s customers reacted positively to the new positioning he had developed (he joined the company six months ago), as they did in the last quarter. This has already been confirmed by discussions with colleagues from numerous company departments.

As he speaks, other female colleagues enter and colleagues the room. You sit down in an empty seat with an apologetic shrug. The head of marketing only nods casually and in no way irritated. Towards the end of his opening address, a younger gentleman enters the room. The blue suit is wrinkled. The collar of the white shirt was open, no tie. A rucksack hangs casually over the left shoulder. After hastily saying goodbye, he takes the mobile phone off his ear when the head of marketing speaks to him. He changes into English, greets the colleague almost amicably by his first name and expresses his understanding for the late arrival, as the air traffic from London is certainly to blame again.

The meeting will be held from this point on continued in English. The head of marketing hands over to the managing director of the market research institute. This lectures, based on almost one hundred Powerpoint charts, takes about 80 minutes. She is only interrupted by questions from the head of marketing, who wants to “emphasize” particularly clear evidence of the attractiveness of the new campaign.

Otherwise there is a calm in the room, which brings back memories of previous experiences at school. “Concentrated calm” would be the wrong description. To this end, too many bilateral talks are being held with neighbors in a slowly increasing number. The processing of e-mails under the table also increases noticeably during the course of the presentation. The lack of comments does not indicate broad approval. Because the facial expressions and gestures of those present repeatedly document contradiction. The notepads laid out are not filled with notes or comments. They are filled with artistically differently demanding drawings, figures and caricatures.

The presentation comes with summarizing theses finished on five pages. In view of the stifling amount of data and representations shown, the accumulation of complex methodological notes and the mass of technical jargon, it is certainly not easy to understand that they actually reproduce the results of the previous charts in their relevant parts. But they are not discussed any further. Maybe also because the time seems to be too short. Several colleagues have already left the room during the final minutes of the presentation, this time with a shrug of shoulders at the watch.

Possible consequences of the presented data or theses are not discussed. All queries relate to more technical details. When is the presentation available on the marketing platform? When is the executive summary available for the superiors?

The “learnings” from the market research round summarizes the head of marketing with the theses that he had already presented in his introduction. He thanks everyone who took part and is looking forward to the next quarterly round. On Thursday in the last week of July. Then back on the track of the customer.

About the author: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Häusler is Chairman of Interbrand Central and Eastern Europe.

Read all of Jürgen Häusler’s columns.