Founder and CEO of market research consultancy, Alter Agents; believer that powerful insights can change businesses.
It’s pretty easy to tell when someone’s more interested in themselves than they are in you. They’ll seek to dominate the conversation, somehow twisting every sentence and situation to become about them. We all know people who act this way, but so do brands and researchers. When that mindset comes to dominate consumer insights, we call it brand narcissism.
We’re not talking about brands that act narcissistically in their marketing material. For some, that’s just their vibe. Brand narcissism in market research is the real villain we’re tackling here. It manifests as survey and interview questioning that’s self-centered and divorced from shoppers’ reality. The questions are all about the brand and how important that brand is to the shopper, rather than the full set of motivations that brought that shopper to purchase a specific product or service.
Brand Narcissism: A Threat To Your Success
When businesses have reliable information, they make good, informed decisions. That’s the value proposition of the entire consumer insights industry, but we have not always lived up to that logic because the industry has a blind spot for its own narcissism.
By asking questions that are irrelevant to the shopper, we are generating incorrect insights. Brand narcissism in research is ultimately a threat to the bottom line because it results in skewed data and insights that business leaders then use to make ill-advised decisions. And if you’re making decisions based on bad information, you won’t achieve the growth your company needs.
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And it goes further than just the research. Brand narcissism is also a barrier to smarter thinking across the business. When everyone in the building is thinking about the brand and not its current and potential customers who shop for its products, they’re not actually focused on improving the customers’ experience or breaking down barriers to purchase or innovations that people actually need. They’re gazing inward and doing things in service to the brand, not the shoppers who fund it. Our marketing history books are a graveyard of brands that were focused on their own reflection, that lost sight of the shopper and perished accordingly.
Brands that think like their shoppers do are the ones that stand the best chance of being successful. They generate reliable insights through their research and think critically about the ways in which they serve their customers and become more appealing in the process.
Customer Centricity: Asking The Right Questions
To get solid insights from shoppers, we need to ask them the right questions. To start, that means asking questions about the right topics and products. But even further, it means asking questions from the right perspective.
Research rooted in brand narcissism sounds like a needy date. It’s like being at dinner and being bombarded with questions like: “Why did you decide to go out with me?” or “Have you seen my Instagram posts?” and, perhaps worse, “How do I compare with other people you’ve met?”
These questions might mirror the ones that brand marketers need to have answered, but that’s not how their customers think when they’re deciding which option they’ll purchase. And when the answers need to come from those customers, the questions need to be asked in a way that makes sense to those people.
For example, instead of asking: “Will you purchase this brand again?” ask “Why did you purchase this brand?” Or instead of asking respondents to select brands they have heard of from a pre-identified list, ask them what brands they came across during their purchase journey.
That’s how brands can truly take customer centricity to heart and leverage it to improve their business. The language we use truly matters, down to the word.
Avoiding brand narcissism in research design and execution can be difficult. It can creep in when multiple stakeholders want a single study to reflect all of their priorities, or when the egos in the room aren’t considering an outside perspective. But putting customers first means asking the right questions that reflect their experience and asking those questions in plain language that they understand. Doing that gives brands solid, reliable insights. They should demand nothing less, and providers should meet that standard.
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Author: Rebecca Brooks, Forbes Councils Member