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The Perception Gap: what customers want and what executives think they want [infographic]

In February, the team at Pivot released a revealing research report that documented the increasing gap between marketer and customers. I referred to this as the Great Divide or the  “The Perception Gap,” the distance between what customers want in social media and what executives think they want. In collaboration with Barnickel Design, we’ve just released this infographic that visualizes the extent of the perception gap between social consumers and social businesses.

Following this report and in many interviews I’ve hosted over the years asking about customer engagement, I will often hear, “Well, customers don’t know what they want.” Other common responses refer to Steve Jobs as if everyone shares his talent for innovation, “Steve Jobs never asked.” Or the ever popular Henry Ford quote never fails to make an appearance, “If I would have asked customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Yes, it’s sometimes true. Customers don’t know what they want. And, sometimes they do. Asking is one part of the ongoing customer research your team should embrace now and over time. Research can lead to insights and insights can lead to innovation. Other byproducts of good research include the ability to feel customer empathy and translate it into inspiration, a powerful emotion that strives for relevance. Just watch any episode of Undercover Boss and you’ll see the same realization about empathy during the ending of every show.

The results of research are dependent on the caliber of the researcher and/or the person who interprets the data. I refer to this as the Human Algorithm—the ability to humanize data to put a face, personality, and voice to the need and chance for change…to help data tell a story.

Now onto Jobs and Ford. Let’s tackle Ford’s “famous words” first. Research cannot find evidence to support that Ford uttered those words after all. However, a more useful Henry Ford quote applies here..and he actually said it! In 1937, Ford was quoted in Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

Now onto Mr. Jobs. Where do I begin?  Steve Jobs is Steve Jobs. I’ve not met his equal, although I’ve met many brilliant and creative people in their own right. The question is, do you or your executive team possess Mr. Jobs’ talent, vision or drive for perfection? Let’s look at Apple in the broader sense as I don’t believe we’ll hear yes to the previous question as much as we hear about Steve Jobs not caring about market research.

Indeed, he was quoted in Fortune Magazine in March 2008, “We do no market research.” The quote was more in reference to how Apple crafts its business strategy not necessarily its product roadmap. It is however, widely known that Apple pays close attention to customer experiences and feedback. While Apple is incredibly quiet about how it develops and markets products, Tom Wood found this tidbit in one of Apple’s privacy statements…

How we use your personal information: We may also use personal information for internal purposes such as auditing, data analysis, and research to improve Apple’s products, services, and customer communications.

We must always listen and also learn to read between the lines. Yes, there’s a difference between asking and understanding.  Whether or not you agree with asking what people want, knowing their preferences or discovering new opportunities is important.

After studying literally thousands of social media strategies, I can tell you that the majority of them are launched without catering to or even knowing the types of services customers expect. In the end, perception is reality.


76% of marketers feel they know what their customers want yet only 34% have asked customers.

83% of consumers seek deals, but only 53% of businesses think that’s what customers really want.

45% of marketers feel that rewards programs are important to customers and 70% of social consumers thought otherwise.

59% and 58% of social customers wish to engage businesses to share feedback and to also receive customers service respectively; on the contrary only 37% of marketers believe that these services are in demand by their customers.

There’s agreement between customers and marketers on product feedback. 55% of consumers and 53% of marketers would like to collaborate on improving products and experiences.

The focus of Pivot 2011 was the rise of the social consumer. In 2012, we’re concentrating two-days on the rise of the social business. Doing so will help strategists and executives build a social construct that narrows or closes the great divide.

See you at Pivot in New York this October! Use code solisVIP400 to save $400.

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