The accepted wisdom is that it is always best to listen to the customer. However, is there a case to ignore what they are saying? When attitude and behaviour become detached from each other, what people say is no longer a good indicator of how they will behave. There is sometimes a case not to listen to the customer.
The fact is that the UK has a weight problem and for a minute there it was not just the do-gooders and the media that was concerned, for a short while the people were concerned too. Listening to the customers’ voice MacDonald’s changed their tune to keep in step: redesigning their menus to include low cal salads, fruit juices and carrot stick options for their happy meals. Sadly for MacDonald’s it was not what their customers wanted, their reputation was improved but their profits suffered. It seems that the furor over weight changed our attitude but had little effect on behaviour.
3 years later and the wheel turns – revolution to counter-revolution.
MacDonald’s is back on Big Mac course. For all the doom laden sooth saying in the media many of us really do desire to be super sized it seems, after all. Burger fortunes have been revitalized by a return to the ‘big Mac big idea’. It appears that the people liked the idea of salads but they liked to eat burgers even more. MacDonald’s have now taken their customers’ opinion for healthy menus with a pinch of ‘low-salt’ and have realigned their menu with the deeper emotional desires for high-fat rather than high-fibre food.
The counter-intuitive lesson here is not always to listen to what customers say – this may be rational and logical but out of step with the deeper emotional drivers that will ultimately drive the decision to buy. What people say and what they do can be woefully misaligned. Most of us would like to be ‘buff’ and yet consume grub like ‘biffas’. We talk about our concerns for the environment and take weekend breaks on budget airlines. I admire those who live by what they say, but often the relationship between attitude and behaviour is not so black and white. More often there are many shades of grey. We do well in forming marketing strategies to be open to the space between attitude and behaviour and remember – as the MacDonald’s example shows us – it is not attitude that drives revenue, it is behaviour. Actions do speak louder than words. A word of caution for market research that identifies a need by listening to customers in focus groups and customer feedback, stimulating investment in a product that customers may have no intention of actually using. It can take many years for the behaviour to change. Listen to the customer and watch their behaviour too.