Marketing: Research to Understand Customer Reactions

By Alexander Hiam

Consumer reactions to your product or service determine your marketing success and your product’s fate. Research can help you understand — and control — consumer reactions. Focus on the more extreme views that customers express — both positive and negative.

If you collect a rating of all the descriptive features of your product from customers, many of those ratings will prove quite ordinary. A bank branch offers checking, savings, and money market accounts. So what? Every bank does. But a few of the features of that bank may be notably exceptional — for better or for worse.

If the teller windows often have long lines at lunch when people rush out to do their banking, that notable negative stands out in customers’ minds. They remember those lines and tell others about them. Long lines at lunch may lead customers to switch banks and drive away other potential customers through bad word of mouth.

On the positive side of the ledger, if that bank branch has very friendly tellers and a beautifully decorated lobby with free gourmet coffee on a side table for its customers, plus a counter where a local deli sells to-go sandwiches and salads for hurried individuals to grab lunch while getting their banking done, the bank’s notable warmth and helpfulness sticks in customers’ minds, building loyalty and encouraging them to recruit new customers through word of mouth.

If you gather customer ratings, you can draw a graph of all the features of your product, rated from negative through neutral to positive. Most features cluster in the middle of the resulting bell curve, failing to differentiate you from the competition. A few features stick out on the left as notably negative — you must fix those features fast!

Other features, ideally, stand out on the right as notably positive. You need to nurture and expand on these features, and don’t forget to boast shamelessly about them in all your marketing communications.

Do some research to understand your own brilliance curve by asking customers to rank you on a laundry list of descriptors for your business/product/service. The scale ranges from 1 to 10 (to get a good spread), with the following labels:


For example, the list of items to rate in a bank may include checking accounts (average), savings accounts (average), speed of service (poor), and friendliness of tellers (very good), along with many other factors you’d need to put on the list to describe the bank in detail.

Getting customers to fill in a survey sheet is important enough that you should consider offering them a reward for doing so. You can waive the fees on their checking account for the rest of the year if they mail in a completed form. Or (if you don’t mind honest feedback) you can ask them to fill in a rating form while standing in a potentially long line.

Your high-ranking attributes from the survey represent the features customers think you do brilliantly. The low scores represent the features you need some work on. Sometimes you find yourself with a fairly long list of things (product attributes) that you don’t score well on.

To clarify which ones are most worthy of working on, you can ask customers to rate the importance of each listed item. Then you can focus your improvement efforts on the more important attributes.

Sometimes customers disagree about what’s more and less important (some customers may value speed or convenience over price, while others want quality at almost any price, for example). When you notice a rift with some customers clearly having different priorities from others, then you have an opportunity to segment the market by catering to one specific group of customers and its high.

You can also notice new market segment opportunities as they first emerge in real time by tracking what customers are saying about brands on social networking sites.

When you design your marketing communications, you definitely need to focus on leveraging your high-rated product attributes. Talk them up and invest even more in them to maximize their attractiveness.