Understand Why Before Who As You Steer Your Business

Classically trained marketers at BigCo can too easily assume they know WHY people buy their products. This is because they generally work for holding companies selling yesterday’s innovations that are household names in basic categories. The WHY behind repeat purchase has become essentially common cultural knowledge (though cultural shifts can slowly pull the rug out from under these assumptions). Sometimes, though, it’s because they have a disease common to a minority of marketers: arrogance. 

For a new brand, one offering a novel formulation inside a category, or even a new category, assuming you do NOT know the WHY is critical, even if, ultimately, you find out you were mostly right. 

Understanding WHY your fans love you is essential for fast-growing businesses pulling all the levers of growth. Understanding WHO they are is actually less important, but definitely critical to key aspects of execution

Folks new to consumer-packaged goods, however, often focus only on WHO loves them and assume they already understand WHY they do. Sometimes, they conflate their motives for creating the brand with their fans’ motives for repeatedly using it. Oops. Or, more often, they mis-prioritize the key outcomes that are driving repeat purchase in doing so (founders like the smell, but fans really like the shape). Either can lead to very off-center 4P playbooks, including channel placement. 

In CPG strategy, WHO is like the soil in your garden. Don’t think of WHO as a big mosh pit of disconnected individuals either. In human terms, the strategically valuable WHO represents specific groups. Social groups are tightly interconnected, collaborative worlds with shared values. Like a garden’s soil varies in its compatibility with specific plants, social groups vary in their relative receptiveness to your offering. 

WHY your fans love you is a totally different thing. It’s about the causal mechanisms of purchase, which are, in turn, connected to specific tactics to drive persuasion (package, social media ads, demo table conversations). 

In my experience, it is much, much, much more important to figure out WHY consumers prefer you over the other brands first and only then determine the specific social groups where the people who get the WHY exist in high density. 

Over time, though, the social networks required to grow your business will change. They will get less sophisticated in general. The ‘WHY  behind your growth will also then change. Every 2-3 years, it’s worth understanding if your heavy-using fans are now driven by a different WHY than before. Nothing may have changed, depending on the size of the initial social niche you tapped. Usually, the evolution of your consumer base is ahead of your perception of it as an operator. You literally don’t have time to hang out with your consumers all day long. So, don’t forget to check-in.

If you want to really learn how to DIY your own fan research at ANY stage, I have an online course that will teach you a scrappy low-cost approach (the cost of discounts, free samples plus a survey platform license).

Dr. James Richardson

[email protected]