Desire expects to be dazzled, whereas wants are more cut-and-dried. The old adage about people not knowing what they truly desire till they see it is exactly right. To the extent that you’re offering them the “same ol’ same ol’,” you’re just as likely to disappoint as you are to delight. In a world of constant innovation, this is truer than ever. An authentically innovative business is one that bends over backwards to amaze its customers constantly. In the process, they are differentiating themselves as clear stand-outs in a field of “me-too” rivals.
Desire is a field of customer propensities, which you can take to the bank only when you see them expressed in actual behavior, such as renewals, orders, acceptances, and responses to your solicitations. Desire may not be obvious beforehand, not even to the person who holds it deep in their heart. It is something you must continually search and probe for, so that it materializes like the fabled genie from the rubbed lamp.
Your big data repositories are the historical record of customer wants, in the form of records on what they’ve bought from you in the past, how they feel about it, what features might cause them to buy or avoid your future offers, and so forth. In other words, your customer data warehouse is the place where you store the baseline data on “same ol’ same ol’”.
You should think of historical data–expressed customer preferences, purchases, sentiments, and other behaviors–as potential passphrases that may give you some clue on how to unlock the genie of desire. It only becomes the data of desire retrospectively, after you do something that discovers the “open sesame.”
Sure, you can use Maslow’s pyramid or any other abstract touchy-feely framework for divining fundamental desires. But none of those will give any edge over your competitors, who’ve also assimilated most of the same consultant-speak. And none of those will give you insights into the very specific, idiosyncratic, and situational desires of particular customers or segments.
And of course you can flesh out your customer data with social media feeds, producing the “720-degree view” that I sketched out in this blog. That intimate view will help you identify the propensities, sentiments, and attitudes that drive them, which should drive better targeting of offers and experiences. And it will get you closer to the proverbial “data of desire.” However, customers will may find it creepy if you start targeting them so closely that it feels like you’re stalking their every online behavior. Indeed, one of the unstated desires of almost every customer is for you, the merchant, to keep a respectful distance and not appear to be driving and dominating the ongoing relationship.
How can you zero in on customer desires on a regular basis within ongoing operations without seeming to be stalking them? The secret is introducing sustained serendipity into your customer engagement strategy. You should be popping regular surprises on customers that encourage them to express what deeply moves them, but only on their own terms.
Serendipity is all about controlled experimentation. Essentially, you’re going to need to run ongoing experiments that shake up the customer experience. What you want to do is give them special treats out of left field that they can’t get anywhere else.
What sorts of experiments am I talking about?
You can experiment with innovative new products and services. This is the favored approach of designers and Steve Jobs wannabes everywhere. Every “insanely great” innovation is an experiment that either taps deeply into some previously unimagined customer longing, or languishes on store shelves as yet another failed product that either was ahead of its time or totally misread the customer. You never quite know if demand for something truly unprecedented will materialize. Within your digital channels, you can mitigate this risk by letting each customer personalize the designs of your products. This should enable you to serendipitously discover pent-up desires that your designers and market researchers may have given short shrift.
And you can experiment with innovative offering models. This is one of the favored approaches of digital marketing professionals. It typically involves using big data plus embedded analytics and business rules to finely personalize “next best offers” across multiple engagement channels. Every offer is a surprise to the customer because they may never have seen it before and, depending on their response, they may never see again. Every time a customer accepts or rejects these offers, you have further insight into what makes them tick in various circumstances. You can wage real-world experiments that do comparative testing of alternate offering models in different channels, under different circumstances, and with different customer segments. What you may discover, iteratively, is some heretofore combination of factors—bundling, pricing, financing, delivery, etc.–that make all the difference with some customers and boost their response, acceptance, and satisfaction rates sky-high.
To the extent that customers gravitate toward some particular type of interactive, collaborative game that deepens their engagement with your brand, you’re engaging their hearts. And to the extent that you give them the opportunity to stage their own games within that portal or community environment, you’re giving them the tools to bond with each other and with your brand. You’d be surprised at the sorts of games your most passionate customers will develop in your community, if you give them half the chance.
You will tap into deep customer desires if your digital channel strategy addresses the upper levels of Maslow’s hierarchy: self-actualization, esteem, and belonging.
The data of desire will flow from whatever serendipitous blend of products, services, offers, and experiences intensifies customers’ blissful engagement with their deepest desires.