With investment in customer research on the decline, marketers are not addressing the basics, let alone testing new techniques like behavioural science, which means brands are missing what consumers want.

Gaining a deep understanding of consumers’ beliefs, motivations and behaviours should be at the heart of marketing. But as budgets have got tighter, customer insight is one area that has suffered, with many brands failing to explore new tools and even forgetting the basics.

Although consumers may not have changed fundamentally over the decades in terms of what they need from brands, their expectations have shifted in line with wider changes in society. As a result, the benchmark people measure brands against is rising, so while consumers have always wanted fast delivery, for example, today fast means next day not next week.

Getting to grips with what drives people is the “essential quest” of marketing, states Ogilvy vice-chairman Rory Sutherland. However, he acknowledges that getting under the skin of what really matters to consumers requires a rigorous, multi-pronged approach that accepts people largely do not understand their own motivations.

“We don’t know why we do the things we do. Moreover, the reasons we do attach to our behaviour is often a post-rationalisation and therefore really an explanation as much designed to make us look good and sensible as it is a truthful response to the question,” Sutherland points out.

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