Conducting painstaking research to guide a company’s new initiatives on serving customers doesn’t always work, often doesn’t work. That research, which many times includes surveys or working with focus groups, assumes that customers will accurately report their thoughts and desires on a product, service or experience.



But time and again, companies are discovering that consumer behavior in the marketplace bears no resemblance to what their research indicates. That research is often only one-dimensional.



Traditionally, marketing has been based on taking consumers at their word – on grilling them for insights about their tastes, buying habits, and brand attitudes. Yet, upwards of 60 to 80 percent of all new products fail because traditional research and hard data don’t take into account how the consumer mind works. What has not been developed, until recent years, is a deeper understanding of why customers behave the way they do.



The obsession with “voice of the customer” and customer opinion is less valuable in ultimately gaining a competitive advantage for businesses. Rather, it is in knowing how the customer thinks, not what they think, that leads to developing deeper emotional, unconscious connections with them. And those deep emotional connections, in turn, ultimately lead to sustainable loyalty, moving customers from being merely engaged with your brand or business to being invested in it. In the latter case, customers become committed advocates for you, willing to talk about and praise your business through word-of-mouth contacts with family and friends.



A simple but profound fact: Observing customers will offer you a wealth of information you can’t get from traditional research methods. With sophisticated, new capabilities, watching consumers in their natural settings is becoming an important and growing part of the expanded research mix.



Meanwhile, science is demonstrating that the unconscious dynamics of customer thinking provide the richest understanding of attitudes, behavior, and loyalty tendencies. Studies in neuroscience indicate that as much as 95 percent of all thinking occurs in our subconscious, which means it is also the starting point for conscious action.



Like the tip of a large iceberg, the rational reasons consumers give for their buying decisions and preferences are highly influenced by the mass of information below the surface of consciousness. By the time people become aware of a decision on a conscious level, it has already happened in their unconscious mind.



These discoveries will have immense implications for companies on how they conduct and carry on business. Organizations that develop expanded approaches for understanding their customers will gain powerful competitive advantages. It’s the difference between trying to make judgments from a single snapshot versus having an album of photos from various vantage points that gives the viewer a holistic and thorough picture.

The ability to play back a video, assess body language, gain insights from verbal contexts, or surface meaningful metaphors will generate far more relevant connections with customers, which will lead to greater differentiation, loyalty, and value for all concerned.