What my 7-year-old taught me about rethinking customer strategy in this New Normal

cartoon drawing by laptop

For her remote learning assignment this week, my daughter was asked to write about her likes and dislikes during this time of shelter-in-place. (For the record, the term “New Normal” was completely confusing to her) Unlike her usual, creative self, she was stumped.

What ensued was not only a father-daughter bonding experience that made my week, but also an inspiration for me to write about the need to re-examine all that’s shifting in the customer mindset through these unprecedented times.

Approaching the assignment

The customer strategy student in me suggested that we begin by creative a two-by-two matrix. In other words, we started thinking about the time before sheltering-in-place and making a list of her needs and wants before, then categorized each as either haves or have-nots. After indulging her for twenty minutes while she listed out all the toys and books she wanted but doesn’t have, we did the same exercise for her needs and wants now.

At first glance, her lists look remarkably similar, especially for the things that she has and still needs, like a home, her friends and family, and daily necessities. Even her favorite toys and devices are in-tact, which made her feel better. What was illuminating for me was that, as she had time to reflect, a few additional items also came up in the “don’t have” category that may not have occurred to her otherwise (e.g. enough time to play or sleep).

Next, filling in her “don’t have’s” during this time was a more emotionally involved, but cathartic exercise (see items in red below):

Reflecting on what we discovered

To summarize my observations from this experience:

• The experiences and emotions we take for granted, like “feeling safe” and “taking family trips,” are now top-of-mind needs that we need to address.

• Other underlying needs are now fulfilled by things we have. For example, while physically going to school is paused, learning/schooling has shifted online, causing devices around the house to take on an additional role that, arguably, makes it more of a “need” than a “want.”

• Lastly, knowing that she is “sleeping more” and feels she has more disposable, “do-nothing” time on her hands really allowed us to pivot toward a more forward-looking conversation, namely around:

a) What we can do to retain these wants going forward, rather than slipping back to the “before” picture?

b) What else we can do to raise both happiness and productivity by trying new things, perhaps in lieu of driving around to various sports and after-school activities?

Five key questions on customer strategy sparked by the exercise

This simple exercise should not be novel to many marketers, as evident in how we help many of our clients at Pragmatic define their target customer segments, understand their needs and wants, and come up with well-tested value propositions to address them. But for the forward-looking marketer, now is the time to dust off that well-established study (or start, if you don’t already have one) to quickly re-assess both what’s changed, and what’s new.

Said another way, and as I translate what I learned from this time I spent with my daughter, here are five questions marketers should ask themselves about their target customer segments, to start:

1. How can we reinforce those core attributes that remain important in addressing our customers’ needs regardless of what “normal” looks like?

2. What are the attributes or benefits that my customers may now recognize in what they’ve purchased or subscribed from my brand, for which we may not have received credit before the New Normal?

Availability, consistency in quality and service standards, and even basic product features may become relevant points of messaging.

3. What attributes or benefits have my customers (and us) taken for granted before that they may value more now?

On-time delivery, peace-of-mind, value in mitigating risks, and feeling in control may be attributes that resonate even more strongly now, and likely to remain afterwards.

4. How else can my product or service fulfill underlying customer needs that may not be top-of-mind before?

Think Zoom and education, and also consider both first-order and second-order effects as circumstances around this New Normal continue to evolve.

5. Do your customers have any previously unfulfilled desires that are now attained or made possible (perhaps with the gift of time or WFH), and that they may wish to retain and how can we help? Furthermore, how can we help our customers “up their game” on being both happier and more efficient/productive with what they are getting from us?

Be open to explore new features, extensions, solution bundles, and partnerships.

I would love to hear about how this exercise reveals new and added insights into your customers, and how we can help with the strategy and action plans you’re developing! This is just one of the ways we are helping companies navigate the New Normal.

P.S. A big “thank you” to my daughter, Elise, for being my inspiration on this blog… and in life. This New Normal would feel a lot more boring and stale without you.

Vincent Cheung|April 17, 2020

Looking for more?
Check out our archive!

Interested in joining us? We're always looking for talented new team members. Check out our jobs page.