Today’s marketers are missing true customer insight

Customer closeness used to enable marketers to conduct the orchestra of the marketing mix but too many now are woefully under-prepared and under-trained to play this vital role.

conductorCustomer centricity. Omnichannel experiences. Experience mapping. Just how many buzzwords can we create to describe the unicorn of genuinely good marketing; that of understanding and meeting the needs of the customer?

I find it astounding that the more sophisticated we get – with analytics, predictive modelling and rafts of data scientists – the less able we seem to be to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and create brands and interactions that genuinely make their lives better.

We are all humans. We’ve evolved over millennia to have empathy and a theory of mind – the two things needed to understand and influence other people – and our brains are (many argue) designed entirely for the purpose of navigating human society.

Historically, this was the great gift of the marketer. Ours was the one function, the one role, whose explicit purpose was to spend as much time as possible alongside our customer; observing and analysing, hypothesising, challenging and being inspired by them.

And when push came to shove, when decisions needed to be made, the marketer could delve into the recesses of their mind and place themselves back in Jan’s kitchen in Skelmersdale, really thinking through whether the packaging was going to work in her overcrowded fridge.

It’s that customer closeness that allowed the marketer to conduct the orchestra of the marketing mix – yes, all five Ps of it – around the customer need.

Or sit alongside Steve with his flatmates Mike and Ana in Newcastle and consider whether that app experience was going to be easy among the fug of digital and physical confusion surrounding their evening.

Has no one at Uber realised they need to test their app with drunk users, for example? It’s that customer closeness that allowed the marketer to conduct the orchestra of the marketing mix – yes, all five Ps of it – around the customer need.

It allowed them to trade promotion off with product development, proposition with price, and think through the place where they access the product, always with a clear idea of the customer at the centre.

But we seem to have deliberately handicapped the marketer, making the customer and their genuine day-to-day reality, needs, wants and passions invisible to business. We’ve removed the marketer from the vital human contact that was the data source they implicitly relied on.

We’re developing a generation of specialist marketers, well versed in advanced analytics and attribution modelling. But how are they to craft their understanding of what this data means, what it says about what people are thinking, saying and doing?

How can they make the creative leaps they need for growth without going beyond the observation of data and onwards to gaining insight into the customer? How are they to become true marketers, insanely curious about people and what makes them tick?

Missing the point: Why brands are failing to get the most from customer insight

We’ve thrown focus groups out for online forums. We’ve thrown ethnographic studies out for trends in platform data. And we’ve thrown one-to-one customer contact out for being ‘too busy’. The modern marketer is less able to conduct the orchestra of the marketing mix.

In fact, in most businesses, this mix is now scattered across the functions, with ‘place’ owned by a digital or sales team; ‘product’ owned by an operational team; ‘price’ owned by a commercial function; ‘promotion’ owned by anyone who holds the purse strings; and the good old ‘proposition’, the dreams we sell, owned by someone entirely separate from the product – the brand team.

The poor customer hasn’t got a chance in hell of a ‘customer-centric’ offering making its way to their door. And the marketer in the middle of it all – the customer’s representative – is woefully under-prepared, under-trained, without the tools they need or the span of control necessary for the vital role they play.

Cheryl Calverley is CMO of Eve Sleep



There are 6 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Steve Bax 21 Aug 2019

    Hear, hear. Very well put. Of course, the metrics and analytics are critical components of understanding the customer journey but we should not forget the importance of putting ourselves in their shoes. Research has flaws. We are dealing with human beings after all. The value that can be gained by taking the time to research real customers both in their own environments and in focus group situations cannot be understated or forgotten however.

  2. Denyse Drummond-Dunn 22 Aug 2019

    Great article Cheryl and well expressed arguments – wish I was as eloquent!
    When I started work, decades ago I admit, it was in a CPG company, and brand managers there spent one day a week in the field.
    Now you’re lucky to find one who connects personally with their customers more than once or twice a year! And yet it brings so much understanding, far beyond what market research and data can provide alone.
    Do you think they’re scared of the truth?

  3. Eugenio Pantaleon 23 Aug 2019

    Yes, of course, and…?

  4. David Whiting 25 Aug 2019

    I agree entirely with the thrust of this piece, but would take issue with the reference to ‘all 5 Ps’. Who says there are 5Ps? The only accepted number of Ps in marketing theory are 4 and 7; it doesn’t help the credibility of marketing as a profession when the fundamental pillars of the discipline are not understood and used. ‘P’s are forever being created by commentators and practitioners, with insufficient understanding of the concept: the marketing mix consists of tools or variables that the marketer can work with to devise and execute marketing strategies (which is where ‘proposition’ belongs, not as a tool).

  5. Marcelo Salup 25 Aug 2019

    The wrong people are asking the wrong questions and applying these answers the wrong way. The right way is to stop this focus group nonsense (you want to talk to 10 people, talk to your neighbors), the cliche 1-5 scales and focus only on what customers truly love.

  6. Ronald Jansen 27 Aug 2019

    Hello Cheryl, I fully understand your point. And I understand some of the reactions. But if marketing is holistic, the way we gather insights should be holistic too. Consumers dont think in Creative, the Brand, Media etc. For them, its all advertising stuff. Consumers dont think and act in statements, fort them, thats research stuff. Being a marketing researcher, I recognized that and we therefor developed the mass qual approach using storytelling techniques where real consumers (from non, light to heavy buyers) share real stories, in their own words. If you like, you can learn more at our Brand Growth Event in London (see or I can secure a seat for you in October. So I would say, it is still possible that insights fuel marketing, but only if you’re able to get rid of the old skool questionnaire based survey.

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