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Uncommon Sense: Let Your Customers Tell You What They Want to Talk About
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Uncommon Sense: Let Your Customers Tell You What They Want to Talk About

Marketing works best when it’s not trying to sell. As the management guru’s guru Peter Drucker said, “The aim of marketing is to make selling unnecessary.” But if you can’t talk about what you have to sell and a sale is what you want, what exactly do you talk about with clients and potential clients?

The best answer is to talk with them about what they want to hear about—not the same as what you think they want to hear about! So how do you find out what that is?

One way is to do a kind of marketing two-step. Invite a group of potential clients to discuss a topic you think will be interesting to them, see what actually grabs their attention, and turn the conversation in that direction. To succeed, however, you have to have a very flexible presenter, or a very flexible presentation. For those who are very flexible presenters, proceed as you see fit. For everyone else, this is for you.

When starting that flexible presentation, ask: What subject should it be on? The good news is that you really only have two choices: either you’ve got some well-laid-out, interesting data proprietary to your company, or you’ve got what you think are compelling insights on facts everyone knows. Option one is more reliable: The world is awash in opinions on facts everyone knows, but new data set out in a thoughtful way is at a premium. And if you can answer your audiences’ questions by giving the data a twist on the spot, you are home free.

Enter data visualization, a powerful answer to “Death by PowerPoint” (a funny title for an Agatha Christie mystery if it weren’t the grim daily experience of too many executives with too many meetings). Accordingly, we recently launched Nielsen First Look, a new program to share proprietary information through interactive data visualization. We began with a group of senior marketing executives in the financial services industry, sharing a “first look” visual of our most recent Global Consumer Confidence survey, which leveraged the data on consumer confidence we’ve collected since 2005.

The survey, based on a survey of 30,000 people in 60 countries, contained some striking insights. Global job optimism reached 50% for the first time since pre-crash 2007. It increased in North America and Europe. India reclaimed the top spot. China’s confidence remained high, but flat. Japan receded.

Much more important, however, was what turned out to be most interesting to the audience. Two particular ideas generated the most dialogue.

The first was the way consumer confidence worked as an uncanny barometer just before both the Great Recession and the housing recovery.

The second concept that captured our audiences’ attention was the huge divide in confidence between Millennial and Baby Boomer consumers. This is enormously important information for companies that grew up with Boomers and must now rise or fall with Millennials, and our guests debated it passionately. The divide between the Millennials and the Boomers carries more generally, if less starkly, across the spectrum: Right now, young consumers are much more confident than their elders.

Other topics that engaged our audiences’ interest were:

  • The impact on confidence of what was happening in the U.S. housing market—particularly retail property, given its close link with employment prospects.
  • The idea that company performance is becoming more relational than transactional. If you don’t engage emotionally with today’s consumers, you may not connect with them at all.
  • An apparent trend toward lower-risk portfolios among those continuing to amass wealth, particularly in the mass-affluent and emerging-affluent segments.
  • A consensus that U.S. consumers want more transparency from financial institutions if they are to trust them as much as they once did—but also the belief that the financial institutions’ ability to create personal, open experiences for consumers is constrained in today’s regulatory environment.

Still, these were side-conversations to the main points. It was clear that what these senior marketers most wanted to talk about—and what, no doubt, many other markets would be equally happy to discuss—were the predictive power of consumer confidence and what different confidence levels among different age groups said about how to engage each segment.

We plan to host more First Look gatherings later in the year and may well have more to share then. In the meantime, feel free to engage directly with the Consumer Confidence Trend Tracker yourself. Enjoy!