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Proof that "customer closeness" is just lip service?

Around 9 years ago the 2 gents pictured below started a business. It had the mantra of getting companies closer to their consumers. Plus some weird stuff about walking in their shoes… don't ask.

John and Alistair, founders of consumer empathy agency Watch Me Think
Evangelists for Customer Closeness

They had seen the truth that many companies all too often surrounded themselves with what was familiar. That they rarely bothered with getting out and discovering what it was really like "out there" for customers in their day-to-day lives.

The tale of the end (user)

They told - and still tell - the story of Nancy Snyder, who was the Innovation Director @ Whirlpool back in the early 2000s.

About how she took her entire Board to consumers' homes to watch them fill washing machines.

How the Board noticed that when people lent down and then got back up, they tended to lean on the machine and make a little grunting noise.

That insight led to the launch of the washing machine on a plinth. A new multi-million dollar category.

It was an insight that could only ever have been discovered because the Board stood next to the consumer. And in an era when most companies struggled to get even their brand managers out of the building.

"Customer closeness is just a slogan"

That's what John and Alistair preach to us in the office.

"Many say it. Yet, many have never done it," says John. "Or just made the odd token gesture,” he quickly adds.

Both of them could reel off company after company, some of the biggest brands on the planet, citing their annual reports and stakeholder updates which claimed (feigned?) interest in this proximity to end-users.

Grandly stating that "customer-centricity is at the heart" of what they do. That they must "remain relevant to the consumers". To "get closer". To "walk in their shoes" (don't ask).

Both gentlemen have been telling us this for years.

Making us write it all down.

Like wearing a t-shirt for a band you've never seen

It was kind of like being made to wear a t-shirt for a band you've never seen.

Turns out they were right all along.

Consumer closeness is a fib

The fabled closeness is actually far from reality.

How do we know?

An MSc student has recently been looking into how WMT should promote itself as a consumer closeness agency.

He did some geeky analysis. Clicked some scary buttons. And like the kid who points to the naked king, says to Alistair:

”Why do you want to do that?

Why do you want to sell yourself as a customer closeness agency?

No one uses that term."*

[* "No one" is an exaggeration, but it's not far off.]

What do you mean, was the reply? Companies tell us they want to get closer to their consumers all the time?

"That may be, but they don't 'use' it."

The annoying student continued:

"I've done the research in 4 different keyword engines and practically no one uses the term online to find anything."

Less than 50 searches per month, in fact.

On a good month.

Globally (albeit in English).

Linkedin gives its own share of people interested in marketing as 27 million +.

OK, there are obvious caveats to the above rough calculation using LinkedIn, but you get the idea.

So our MSc student is arguing that the 27 million aren't really interested in consumer closeness ...nor do they care much for consumer empathy for that matter

Otherwise, people would be searching for it. At least more than they are now.

News. Articles. Studies. Papers. Videos.

Possibly even companies that can help others achieve customer closeness...? Hmm?

But they don't. Well. Very rarely.

There *are* caveats (as always in life) but the numbers do suggest it's all just lip service.

And when you get stuck with a consumer research project, or perhaps when starting such a project, or aiming to enhance it, corroborate it, or challenge it, no one goes looking to get closer to those we seek to address.

So what do people look for at such times?

"Right, clever fella" we said, "if no-one uses the term, what do they use instead?"

If people are not getting closer to consumers, what are they doing? What's in their heads?

This is his next project - and it won't just be sourced with the engines that brought the news.  We're going to be in touch with people such as yourself (is that your phone ringing?) We're going to get to the bottom of this. We're going to get closer to the absence of closeness.

If you'd like to know what we find out, leave your email address below and we'll send you what we uncover towards the end of this year.

(Oh, and if you are genuinely interested in getting closer to those you need to get close to, even if you never type it into a search engine 🙂 Watch Me Think has a consumer closeness program that works.)

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