If you’ve seen any of the excellent marketing and brand moves made by Vegemite, Furphy beer and, dare I say it, 13 CABS in the past year then you’ve caught a glimpse of the inner workings of the lusciously weird mind of Adam Ferrier and his agency, Thinkerbell.
His newish book, Stop Listening to the Customer … Trying Hearing Your Brand Instead, lines up next to the work of those brands in what I can only think of as some sort of syncopated harmony (to use the wankiest term I possibly could). The statement the book title makes is that work to the nth degree, and the outcomes by proxy achieve what the title tells you not to do. But really that is the whole point.
Customers rarely predict what they want things to be like in the future, but customer obsession ties itself to that future and attempts to deliver. When it comes to the crunch, what the consumer tells you they want is wrong. What’s worse is they lie to you about it.
Ferrier reframes this in terms of what research and insight should look like – observation of behaviours, not verbal questions with answers – and shows how that knowledge and insight should be subservient to your brand and what it needs to achieve, not to what the customers say (lies, damned lies!) they want.
The result can be a better predictor and executor of customer experience anyway. That wanky syncopated harmony thing I was getting at. But there is certainly a lament in this about companies and marketers forgetting the tone their brands set.
What Ferrier’s book does with relative ease and short but precise case studies is explain the homogenous shortfalls of customer obsession – a devastating foible of many self-made ‘digital’ marketers. He implores us to look at the brands, look in their categories and bear witness to the shitty sameness that has become the norm therein. All because the customer told us to.
This is juxtaposed with companies and brand work that, he argues, hear their organisation, hear their brand, create their categories, and respond with creative work that cannot be ignored. And, importantly, delivers on ambitious targets with strong results.
It is deeply convincing.
People with talent pouring from every orifice feature heavily in the form of quotes, research and case studies. And the appearance of a slightly bastardised version of McKinsey’s customer journey map drives home that this does indeed belong in the minds of trained marketers, if not in textbooks. Though Ferrier may bristle at that.
Look, there is more than one way to skin a cat, despite what the array of marketing books might tell you. But to say the answer is somewhere in between what Ferrier is preaching and what, say, Mark Ritson would advise really doesn’t nail the spirit of the gems in this book.
Being at either end of that spectrum is the point. To lean into the advice deeply, meaningfully and obsessively.
There are amazing successes and work to be had by following the advice in Stop Listening to the Customer, and it’s a perspective – almost a determined and math-like celebration of the weird – that many in our industry desperately need to hear.
Because weird is rarely boring, and we could all use a bit more of it.
Stop Listening to the Customer…
Try Hearing Your Brand Instead
By Adam Ferrier with Jen Flemming