Why Marketers’ Fantasies about Buyers’ Behavior Don't Work Anymore

Written by Irakli Beselidze - May 14, 2015

Kate came into the café and pecked me on the cheek.

“Sorry for being late. I’m very busy today. In the morning one stubborn client has already done my head in, and he still pesters me with his stupid requests and questions.”

Kate went on telling her story, at the same time taking off her coat and making the order. “Iced coffee? Latte? Oh, I constantly confuse them. Give me the one that’s warm, please,” said she to the waiter and went on pressing the buttons on her iPhone where a stubborn client still didn’t want to give her a favor and get off her back.

Kate worked as a copywriter. She wrote sales copies and other content for various companies. Some of them sold vinyl windows, others – furniture, natural cosmetics, wellness chairs, etc. All of them had different kinds of buyers, and Kate managed to get on well with all of them. It was quite easy and simple for her, and I wanted to know how she did it.

“How do you do this?” pressed questions I. “When I think about Gutten’s buyers, I don’t know what to do. I just see either a faceless crowd of men aged 30-55 or different people I don’t know what to do with. How can I get what exactly unites all of them? What do they care about? How do you get on well with your customers and persuade them into making a purchase?”  

“Oh, it’s quite simple,” said Kate smiling. “I simply put myself in buyer’s shoes and look at the world with his eyes.”

“I can’t imagine this,” said I.

“You must do this,” confidently said Kate rearranging her sweater. “That’s the whole point! Tell me, who is your buyer?”

“Well, usually they’re men aged 30-55,” I started explaining everything in details but she shook her head.”

“No-no-no. Choose one typical buyer and talk about him as a real person. Peter Smith, a killer, 40 years old, smokes ‘Marlboro’, reads books to blind children, dreams to come into fortune… Do you get what I mean?”

I hesitantly gave a nod.

“Is he married?”

“Peter Smith? Surely, he is.”

“Perfect. Does he have children?”

After a while Peter Smith became a father of one child, but Kate still wasn’t satisfied with the result and went on. She insisted that we had to understand Peter’s pain points, his fears and secret wishes and dreams. Underlying motives, broken dreams, and life’s ironies that shaped his character – we thought about everything. Thanks to our imagination, Peter’s life was fleshed out. Being expelled from the second course of the university, he went to the army. Then he met a pretty girl, and in 4 months he was told that he would be a father. Here he was – with a child and a wife, enviously looking at ex-course mates who became rich and successful while he worked as a fitter.

We researched Smith’s life, his secret feelings and wishes. We got to know how desperately he wanted to be respected, how he dreamt about a luxury car and a big house. We understood that his choice of Gutten was motivated by the desire to stand out from neighbors. “At least the roof will be different from others,” he thought touching Gutten’s sheets and choosing green ones.

We imagined how he smiled looking at his house and realizing its uniqueness, and then I ruined everything.

“Kate,” said I, “what’s the point if we’ve just made up this story?”

“Kate was sincerely surprised.”

“The point is that we’ve created one typical representative out of the crowd of unknown men. Now you’ve got Peter Smith known from A to Z. It’s very simple to create a message that will assure him to buy Gutten. And if a representative buys a product, the rest will do the same. This is the point.”

“Buy how can we know that real buyers are similar to our Peter Smith? They may have other reasons for buying Gutten.”

Kate brushed the whole matter off.

“It’s quite simple,” she said. “Firstly, you should talk to someone who knows our buyers perfectly well. I don’t usually make typical buyers up by myself. I talk to business owners or CEOs. They can tell you so many interesting things about their business and clients that you’ll get tired of listening. Go to your boss …”

“To Olga?” asked I.

“Right, to Olga. And ask her all these questions. Let her go over all the details she knows, Believe me, she knows a lot, you just need to ask the right questions,” pronounced Kate twinkling mischief at me.

“And secondly?”

“And secondly, if you are not sure about your buyer’s needs, focus on universal human wishes and dreams. If you write down that Peter Smith has bought Gutten to be different from others, you won’t be mistaken. Everyone wants to stand out from the crowd. Everyone wants their neighbors to be delighted with their house. This variant is a sure winner, so don’t worry. ”

Kate was speaking so confidently that my doubts started receding.

“It seems she knows what she says and does. She’s been working for many years and has a lot of clients,” thought I. And I found the idea of drawing the facts from Olga to be very tempting.  Firstly, because she had been in business for many years and had seen many different buyers, thus, she was a goldmine of valuable information. And secondly, because now it was a chance to show that I was doing a real work. And one more important thing – if something went wrong, I would say, “Olga, it was actually you who asked me to act like this.”

At the end of our conversation I wrote down questions to Olga (Kate dictated them to me), received a list of copywriting books to read, and got Kate’s advice on how to make our site more attractive for buyers. Thanks to Kate, now I was on firm ground.

 It’s really funny that Michael feels he is on firm ground right when he’s going to dive into the ocean of fantasies. Why are marketers so apt to romance? Why does it happen and what consequences does it have? Let’s look closer at the problem.

Marketers’ fantasies about buyers’ behavior do not work anymore.

The majority of specialists belonging to different fields start acting only after conducting a thorough research. Before putting on medication, doctors ask patients about their health and look at the results of their analyses. Petroleum geologists do oil exploration before drilling oil wells.  But marketers just dream up why buyers should purchase your products. Why does it happen? Why don’t they do any research and talk to buyers?

Well, this problem is deeply rooted. Half a century ago companies faced the necessity to distinguish their products from competitors’ goods. What’s the difference between wheat flour of one company and that of another? Right you are, in the original packages, catchy slogans, associations with healthy lifestyle, i.e. in words and ideas that has nothing to do with the wheat flour itself.

This approach became very popular, and as a result, almost all marketers now find it their main job to create ideas of products that will make sales. The marketing’s big idea can be formulated in the following way: “A product is nothing. An image is everything.” Create an excellent idea, and all the rest will go like clockwork.

The main trouble with this approach is that these ideas are evaluated by company’s top managers instead of its final buyers. And the point is that big bosses like big ideas. And they do not want to bother about the fact that the ideas are not related to buyers’ point of view.

The approach worked when companies could communicate their vision of the product without considering buyer’s opinion. But the development of the Internet has turned word-of-mouth to a fully functional digital media that has a strong influence upon a products’ choice. Now people have an opportunity to get to know what other buyers (but not a company) think about a particular product. For the first time in last 50 years of marketing’s existence buyers’ opinion has started influencing the decision to purchase a product. From now on, if your marketing activities contradict buyers’ point of view regarding your product, you simply shake faith in your company and marketing as a whole. Nowadays the approach “we’ll think something out” works only within margins set by a buyer. This is the reason why you should first research your buyers’ behavior along the buying journey and only then start creating ideas with due regard to the received data. Don’t neglect the research of your buyers’ insights, and you’ll definitely be on firm ground.

If you’ve decided to research your buyers for creating an efficient marketing strategy that will boost your sales growth but you’re not sure you can cope with everything by yourself, just drop me line – I’ll be happy to help.

Thousands of marketers are looking for answers to their numerous questions and fighting  their corner even when colleagues consider them to be madmen. Michael Fox is on of these madmen. He works for Gutten  as a CMO and tries to find best solutions to challenging tasks even if he has to question the authority of Philip Kotler and executives' vision for that.

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