June 02, 2020
Case Study

Customer Discovery: 4 mini marketing case studies showing how companies discovered what their customers wanted


This article is filled with marketers who got it wrong.

Didn’t know which value claims their customers wanted. Overlooked entire customer sets. Ordered wrong-sized clothing. Assumed customers were willing to foot a travel bill.

But the type of person who is gracious and open-minded enough to realize they don’t know everything — these marketers search, they ask questions, and they ultimately gain valuable discoveries.

Read on to see how getting it wrong — and admitting that we all probably make incorrect and unfounded assumptions about our customers every day — is the first step to true customer discovery and marketing results. We bring you mini case studies from a face mask company, ecommerce clothing site, travel booking platform, and press release distribution company.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

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(As seen in the MarketingSherpa newsletter. Click to get a free email subscription to the latest from MarketingSherpa.)

If you are engaged in any marketing activity at any level, you often get it wrong about your customers. Perhaps daily.

After all, you are not the customer. You are not in their heads. Even when you’re in the same demographic, the same customer set, you’re seeing the world through the eyes of the marketer — working on your brand, selling your product, writing your ads.

So before you read this article, pause for a beat and ask yourself what assumptions you're making about the customer.

Then, read these mini case studies to generate a few ideas for how you can validate those assumptions to discover what you were wrong about, what you are correct about, and what new things about the customer you didn’t even consider.

Mini Case Study #1: Press release distributor discovers most appealing value proposition using A/B testing

Your product or service likely has many elements of value. But which is most appealing to your customers? Which should you center your brand’s value proposition around?

PR Newswire (PRN) was working with MECLABS Conversion Marketing Services to determine its most effective value proposition (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa). To accomplish this, MECLABS worked with PRN, testing different elements of value on its homepage.

The value claim for Treatment #1 is that PRN is the highest authority in the industry.

Creative Sample #1: Value expression for Treatment #1 on press release distribution service homepage

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The value claim for Treatment #2 is that PRN has the best network.

Creative Sample #2: Value expression for Treatment #2 on press release distribution service homepage

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The value claim for Treatment #3 is that PRN has the best customer service.

Creative Sample #3: Value expression for Treatment #3 on press release distribution service homepage

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Value claim #3 generated a 21% relative increase.

After discovering that Value claim #3 was the most appealing value claim for PRN’s ideal customer, the team communicated the value throughout PRN’s funnel, generating conversion increases ranging from 83% to 321%.

To learn more about this experiment and how to build a theory about what your customers want and need, you can watch the MarketingExperiments session How to Create a Model of Your Customer’s Mind. (MarketingExperiments is the sister publication of MarketingSherpa).

Mini Case Study #2: Discovery from customer reviews leads face mask maker to increase traffic 887%

Many companies use customer service to help their customers. And that’s great.

But if you stop there, you are missing a gold mine of customer intelligence.

Here’s an example. Cotton Mask Co was formed when a men’s and womenswear cotton clothing and accessories manufacturer pivoted to making face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

From what I can tell, the company has extremely dedicated and personable customer service (heck, they even offered to send me some face masks.) This was born, in part, out of the novel coronavirus crisis. “To be able to comfort them [customers] without knowing how long USPS’ First Class Shipping time delay would extend to, we would follow up with a personal message letting them know of the delay along with a tutorial for the mask to have in the meantime,” said Margaret Andriassian, Business Marketer, Cotton Mask Co.

This attentive customer service led to a strong amount of feedback and reviews.

Monitoring these customers' reviews sparked a discovery that the face masks’ unique design was getting high ratings and great reviews within a specific type of customer the company had not considered — people who wear hearing aids. With this new customer wisdom, the company started promoting its masks to this new audience.

“Social media and Google have extremely high regulations and policies when it comes to selling essentials, making it very difficult to promote via ads. We started a stream of posts on Instagram that used our customer reviews, including reviews relating to the fact they're great for hearing aids,” Andriassian said.

Creative Sample #4: Instagram post for face mask company with customer review that highlights usage for customers wearing hearing aids

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The team also engaged in a Facebook Group for people who wear hearing aids. “I left a post on a Facebook Group that discusses the day-to-day needs and issues people with hearing aids encounter. Got great feedback and leads to the website, along with at least one trackable order which came from the post,” she said.

Creative Sample #5: Facebook Group post about face mask company in hearing aid group

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Andriassian called Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor offices and sent samples of the masks so that they could review and then offer them to their patients and nurses.

She re-edited some of the Etsy and website product pages to include more information on how the masks are a great solution to people wearing hearing aids, adding in SEO keywords, and wrote a blog post on the website specifically titled “Face Masks Made for Hearing Aids.”

Creative Sample #6: Blog post on face mask website aimed at people who wear hearing aids

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“Between updating the Etsy and website, adding a very optimized article, and posting onto the Hearing Aid Forum, it's hard to say how the spike in orders on the website happened because all the changes took place in one day. According to Google Analytics, it’s mainly from social media. However, the blog article was posted on social media, so it would be a combination of the blog plus social,” Andriassian said.

Creative Sample #7: Updated homepage for face mask company to appeal to people who wear hearing aids

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Andriassian has also started pitching the unique design to the press, to both small and large outlets. “I also submitted [press pitches] to larger platforms like AARP — who specifically wrote an article on how face masks are not inclusive to those wearing hearing aids — along with The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

While this effort to focus on hearing aid wearers is quite new, it has already produced some results. Since the changes, there has been an 887% increase in website traffic.

Mini Case Study #3: Travel booking platform discovers the disconnect between consumers and business

I was pitched with many survey stories for this article. Many, many survey stories. But this next one was more unique.

“We just did a big survey among our customers to better learn what they are thinking. But we didn't do a regular survey — we asked travel industry leaders and professionals parallel questions,” said Elad Shmilovich, VP Marketing, Splitty.

“We felt that all industry leaders think and say the same thing about the future of travel post-COVID-19, but we didn't feel that it made sense,” he said.

For example, they asked industry members “What new expectations will consumers have of airlines?” while asking the travelers “How will your expectations of airlines change? What new expectations will you have?”

“We noticed an amazing thing. Both groups did expect the same changes to happen, mainly regarding the seat arrangements. However, they didn't see eye to eye with the implications of it,” Shmilovich said.

Travel industry insiders said, “We'll see airlines taking out seats and raising the price in economy class,” while consumers said, “Controls on the number of persons per flight and, of course, that they do not abuse prices.”

To a travel industry insider, the natural implication of selling fewer seats is a higher cost per seat. After all, the airline needs to get to a certain revenue number to reach a profit for each flight. If you divide up that revenue number by fewer seats sold, the per-seat cost is naturally higher.

But consumers don’t care about airline profit. Consumers care about physical distancing and making them pay more could seem abusive or profiteering from a global human crisis, like companies that have gotten flack for raising costs on N95 masks or hand sanitizer. It goes to the fundamentals of the human condition — we naturally see a situation through our own eyes, based on our own objectives, built off our own life experiences, soaked with our own biases.

Throughout the survey, travel industry professionals believed that travelers would pay a premium for safety- and health-related preferences or changes.

But the travelers did not expect to carry the cost of these changes. Moreover, some even said they expect airlines to “lower business class flight costs” in response to COVID-19.

“These insights already generated both marketing strategy, off-season targeting, as well as geo-location and product strategy — [we are] about to launch a new product based on [one of the insights],” Shmilovich said.

“[Don’t] take things everyone believes in for granted. Set out to find your truth. This will allow you to find the things and opportunities that others ignored or missed,” he advised.

Mini Case Study #4: Custom analytics event helps ecommerce clothing site discover customer size preferences

Analytics. When talking about discovering what customers want, everyone will suggest metrics, data and analytics.

Of course, and who can disagree? While the data can be helpful, it can also be overwhelming.

So don’t begin with the analytics platform. Start by determining what you need to discover about your customer. And only then determine how your analytics platform can help you learn it.

Here’s a great example.

A recently opened clothing shop was selling leather jackets. These jackets typically come in four sizes: small (S), medium (M), large (L) and extra-large (XL). But the new store didn’t have the funds to stock all four sizes, so it just started with M and L, and put an “out of stock” message for S and XL.

The mediums and larges kept selling, so the store kept ordering those. But they realized there was an information gap. Those sizes were selling because those sizes were in stock.

“In order to find out what sizes my customers want, I created a custom event in Google Analytics that would register every time someone clicks on a size,” said Dan Serbanescu, CEO, Leather Depot.

He noticed his store was getting about the same number of clicks on L (which was in stock) and XL (out of stock), and a bit lower on M (in stock) and S (out of stock).

“Now it is pretty obvious that I was wrong ... my biggest hitters are extra-large and large, and those are the ones that I should stock up more often,” Serbanescu said.

For any ecommerce store that doesn’t have the capital to stock every size and every product, using analytics is a way to discover the most popular sizes and products without actually making a large number of sales.

“I would advise anyone to try and get the data they need using Google Analytics — with custom events, custom dimensions, etc. — before ordering large quantities of whatever products they’re selling. It’s fine if customers only browse your website in the beginning, you get the opportunity to collect data,” he said.

After changing the store’s mix of sizes, Serbanescu sold over 35% more jackets. But he was cautious to attribute that to the size change alone since his store was just getting off the ground and there were many other changes as well.

“I can't say exactly that my new tactic is what made the 35-40% more sales because at this time I also started getting more Facebook likes and shares. My Google ads were probably a bit more optimized as well, etc. But I can say that it is quite clear to me what I will do in the next fall/winter season: I will stock up in late August with roughly 40% L’s, 30-40% XL’s, 20% M’s, maybe 10% S's. Thanks to this new metric, I know I was wrong getting 50-50 M and L.”

Related Resources

Get the Infographic: How to Create a Model of Your Customer’s Mind

Eight Lessons from the Father of Data-obsessed Marketing

Customer Theory: How to leverage empathy in your marketing (with free tool)

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