Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why being "uncomfortable" may make you a better marketer

In the introduction to her new book, Black STILL Matters in Marketing, Pepper Miller comments on the need to be open to differences among customers, especially when you are trying to find real insights about your clientele.

Here is an excerpt from Pepper's introduction:

Real insights are more than light bulb moments. They are gleaned
from opening up to people and situations that are completely different
from our own. Experience is still the best teacher—more than reading
or hearing about something.

Sometimes we have to embrace being uncomfortable to become comfortable
with one another. I learned this with my first intern. I was open
to working with him but I have to admit, I was also a little bit leery.
“How is a person who just landed from China (literally) albeit an
MBA candidate, with good English language and computer skills going
to work on Black consumer trends?” I asked myself.

Thankfully my apprehension quickly faded after our first conversation.
We were both excited. We immediately began to talk about cultural differences
(with interest). I shared examples of Black nuances that helped
shape successful marketing campaigns, and he shared his experiences
with Black acquaintances. Later he told me that he had questions that
he wanted to ask of his acquaintances (to get to know them better
and understand the culture) but was afraid of being labeled insensitive,
stupid, or a racist.

Sometimes, we are the creators of the “class system” that we despise.
We refuse to walk in others’ shoes, to attempt to see the world through
their eyes. Instead, we try to force people to be more like us, to think
like us. It is not something done maliciously. Many don’t even realize
what they are doing.

I’ve worked with a couple of clients who had products that were
targeted to mid-to-lower-income customers. In those cases, African
Americans represented a significant percentage of their businesses. We
talked with this segment in focus groups and one-on-one interviews
to learn about their needs, and when the customers spoke in their colloquial
language and told stories about their lifestyle that didn’t fit with
the clients’ upscale attitudes, the client was turned off.

These marketers proceeded to craft marketing and advertising that
totally ignored the language, stories, and lifestyles that research had
shown to exist. And marketers wonder why their messages aren’t resonating
with different groups.