Research is crucial to finding out about your customers

Do you really know who your customers are? This is the subject of last week’s cover feature in which the marketing director of Costa Enterprises, Caroline Harris, admitted that the coffee chain didn’t really know who they were.

Lucy Handley

But that was before it managed to more than treble worldwide sales in two years, basing much of its growth on insight, which resulted in the campaign stating that ‘seven people out of ten’ prefer its coffee to that of Starbucks.

Not knowing what people want affects all types of brands. Milka chocolate – which could be thought of as a treat purchase that might not be affected so much by price rises – suffered a loss in sales in Germany because it got promotional tactics wrong.

Parent company Kraft did not fully appreciate that taking the chocolate bars off promotion in Germany would affect sales so much. “If you run a promotion in the UK, you’ll usually attract the lighter users who will buy a single bar and won’t come back.

“If consumers in Germany see lower prices, they’ll buy 15 bars,” says Matt Stockbridge, European analytics manager at Kraft. So, research helped the manufacturer to get to know its customers, rather than just shrugging its shoulders at sales figures.

A more controversial way of getting to know people is to look up their social media profiles on the internet and then match the face to the individual. British Airways is looking at doing this with its Know Me tool, which will help it have a single view of people and can tailor messages to them.

If I was a first class passenger, I’d hope that BA would be addressing me by name and remembering that I like a glass of champagne every two hours, on the hour, and this is a clever way of helping airline staff do just that. But it must be used carefully as it could be overstepping people’s feelings about privacy – as they might feel like they are being spied on. BA says initial research is positive, however.

As austerity bites in Britain, it will pay for brands to know who their customers are and what they want – either individually or collectively. Market research money must be spent carefully, but if done so, it can reap rewards for marketers.

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