From Pains to Promises

By Danny Villanueva, Group Account Director

As a consumer anthropologist, I’ve been in some marketing or research capacity for more than 20 years, and studying people’s hows and whys has become a bit of a passion. In a recent article I read in The Economist, “if there were 10 Commandments for marketing, #1 would be: Know thy customer.” I couldn’t help but think that intuitively we should all know this to be true, and while it’s one of the most fundamental tenets in business, it seems brands still have trouble adhering to it.


In fact, nearly three quarters of companies believe their budgets for customer insights are too low, according to a recent survey of almost 700 senior executives conducted by McKinsey. Even more disturbing, only 6% of companies surveyed understand customer needs extremely well while 45% of companies admit they have “limited to no understanding on how their customers interact with them digitally.”


Which should lead everyone to ask the questions: Do we really know our customers? And if we do, are we sure we know where to find them? Without the ability to understand their customers, brands will find it difficult to be where their customers are. Part of the reason that companies are having trouble understanding their customers is that customer behavior itself is complex. For example, in my industry of focus, research shows that 44% of shoppers use their mobile phones while shopping to check websites, compare prices, and learn more about products.


However, the more fundamental reason is that shoppers are shopping in a different way that requires brands to change how they think about and interact with their customers. It used to be that marketing and sales leaders thought in terms of the classic funnel, which represents the buying process as an ever-narrowing array of decisions and choices until purchase, with little regard for the post-purchase experience. In reality, the channel-surfing customer of today is often expanding the set of choices and decisions after consideration. Customers now are also often actively engaged with the brand—and their friends and peers­—after they’ve bought the product or service using social media and the web.


To adapt to these changes in customer behavior, companies need to do two things:

  1. Understand their customer, where they are, and what they need at all times. This is accomplished through the exercise of strategic customer mapping.
  2. Using insights gathered above, clearly share and differentiate your company story as it aligns to your customer’s needs.


The first step isn’t difficult, but it takes a great degree of time, consideration, and understanding of a group of people. The latter is often more difficult because most companies define themselves by their product or service and not their differentiating value. In the recent Inc. article Why You’re Not In the Business You Think You’re In, this problem is made clear. “If you concentrate too much on what you do or the product you sell, your product or service becomes a commodity–something that can be found on any shelf or street corner. When that happens, your only differentiators are price and options. It is far better and very important to take the time to understand what makes you and your company special.”


So, think about it: What do you do better than anyone else? For Apple, it’s not about computers or phones, their purpose comes to light in their tagline: “Think Different.” The same is true for “Just Do It” by Nike and “Delivering Happiness” by Zappos. Sure, each of these companies sell a product. But more than that, each sell a promise or a feeling. So, shouldn’t your brand take a step back and think about who your customer really is and what they need to make their lives easier?  Then you can think about what business you’re really in, what do you provide that makes your customers love and need you? That’s the foundation of business success, both on and offline.


Dieste, Inc. ( is a Dallas- and New York-based company with a mission to pioneer the future of how brands and cultures connect. Through our partnerships and the deployment of proprietary consumer data, algorithms and human cultural intel, combined with insightful creativity, we are able to sync brands with consumer subcultures and create successful outcomes for our clients. Dieste has won multiple Cannes Lions for their work and has been named Ad Age’s “A-list,” “Agency to Watch” and “Multicultural Agency of the Year” numerous times.  Dieste is part of Omnicom’s (NYSE: OMC) DAS Global network.

Dieste Inc