Understanding Your Customers’ Habits Can Make A Difference

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of hosting a Technology Marketing Council Roundtable for a number of Austin, Texas-based members. Gathered around the table were VPs and senior technology marketers from AMD, IBM, Planview, OpenText, Socialware, Troux Technologies, and a soon to be renamed Austin Ventures startup.

Always with an eye toward seeking out relevant and thought-provoking ways to push the thinking of our members, I invited Art Markman, Ph.D., Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing from the University of Austin, and Principal Advisor Tyler McDaniel from Forrester to talk about how companies can make themselves into a habit with their customers. While there were a number of great insights and peer conversation, I wanted to share my top two takeaways:

Takeaway No. 1: Getting Your Customers To Act Without Thinking. We all develop habits and rituals that become automatic and instinctive. The marketers in companies like Starbucks and Apple spend a lot of time and treasure examining these habits so that they can seamlessly embed their products and services into the lives of their customers. They’ve learned that utilization happens far easier when there’s instinctive action over contemplative thought.

The lesson for B2B tech marketers - it’s time to break our habit of building campaigns that tell customers to “think of us often” and design a new level of marketing that makes customers instinctively act without thinking. Through careful study (see next takeaway), it’s feasible to start laying down consistent, repetitive messages that over time will trigger customers to instinctively act on our products and services versus actually having to think about them.

What it means (WIM): Tech marketers seeking to embed their company, products, and services must realize that just having a customer think of you isn’t good enough. You want them to act with you without thinking.

Takeaway #2: Stop Asking Your Customers What They Do. Really? Tech marketers are obsessed with surveys — so why should we do something different? According to Markman, “If you’re trying to uncover why customers act, they can tell you what they’re doing, but are likely unaware of the human factors that are influencing them, and no survey will every capture that.” So what then?

He urged tech marketers to spend more non-selling time on-site, observing how their buyers and users go about their day. They should start with three areas: 1) personal information consumption methods; 2) organizational technology decision-making rituals; and 3) habits they’ve developed with your competitors.

WIM:Do more field work and break out of the tech marketer survey-obsessed habit. Instead of inviting customers to your next Customer Advisory Board meeting, ask them to host you for a day of shadowing. It may seem farfetched and even difficult, but if you’re serious about embedding your products and services into instinctive actions for your customers, break with traditional thinking, find a way, and begin a new habit.


For an attendee’s summary of the Roundtable, visit A Random Jog.

Also, reserve a copy of Markman’s upcoming book, Smart Thinking: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate, and Get Things Done.

Or contact Markman through the Human Dimensions of Organizations Program @ The University of Texas in Austin.




Thanks for sharing the summary and for putting on such a great event. Dr. Markman's insights were very valuable and we have already found a couple of ideas to put them into use with the new venture.

Looking forward to the next roundtable!


Re: Stop asking your customers what they do


I completely agree with your comments in this blog post.

As a service designer I have worked on many projects with many different research approaches. In general what we find is that asking your customers questions about how they use your service does a few things:
1. It usually confirms what you already suspect (not bad in itself)
2. It changes their behavior just by being asked (so not value in observing them)
3. Usually they don't even realise why they do what they do anyway and may tell you what they think you want to hear.

We have much more success by observing customers using a product or service. By observing them you can uncover a vast number of insights that can lead to a lot of new ideas to be incorporated into the design or innovation process. Ideally you should observe your customers using your product or service in their own environment and observe their behaviours before, during and after they interact with your offering.

Good post,