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Debbie Levitt Can Customer Behavior Outperform Demographics in Marketing?
Neuro Agent

Learn the secrets of understanding customer behavior and effective marketing from Debbie Levitt, founder of Delta CX! Discover how to navigate buyer’s minds and avoid stereotypes in a customer-centric approach. 

Customer Behavior Episode Summary

  • The role of a CXO and the importance of customer-centricity in businesses of all sizes. Exploring the difference between behavior-based marketing and demographics-based marketing, emphasizing the value of understanding customer behavior rather than relying solely on demographic information.  
  • Avoiding stereotypes and fulfilling brand promises when it comes to customer perception and treatment, with an emphasis on the need for research and data to validate assumptions and avoid costly guessing cycles.  
  • The importance of understanding why customers buy and how to gather that information through research. The next steps of using task analysis to delve deeper into customer behavior and effectively market to similar groups.  
  • The importance of conducting task analysis research to gain deeper insights into customer behavior and identify opportunities for improvement. The value of strategic advice and problem statements derived from the research findings to guide decision-making and drive innovation.  
  • Hiring a freelancer for marketing research and targeting, emphasizing the availability of skilled individuals who were recently laid off. 

Customer Behavior Episode Transcript

Rich: My guest today is the CXO of Delta CX, and since the mid-nineties has been a CX and UX consultant focused on strategy, research, training, and human centered design/user centered design as well. 

She’s a change agent – which makes this an amazing podcast to be on – and a business design consultant focused on helping companies of all sizes transform towards customer centricity while using principles of agile and lean.  

Today, we’re going to be diving into the benefits of using behavior-based marketing in your campaigns with Debbie Levitt. Debbie, welcome to the show.  

Debbie: Hey everybody, and hey Rich. Thanks so much for having me on.  

Rich: All right. There was a little bit of an alphabet soup in your bio. So for those people who may not be familiar with all those terms, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what’s a CXO, what’s CX versus UX, and bring us all up to speed. 

Debbie: Absolutely. So CXO is Chief Experience Officer, and typically it is a role in a company where you have CX and UX departments answering up to you. Delta CX is my company, so it’s a nice title I’ve given myself. But of course there are CXOs out there who didn’t give themselves the title. And typically they are looking at more holistically at, Customer experiences and able to partner with a lot of the other domains who also are. Because ultimately, while we all have specialties and there are lots of domains and departments at our company, customer centricity is in everybody’s job.  

Rich: Yes. And in everybody’s best interest as well.  

Debbie: For sure. And then you also asked about CX and UX. And so CX, customer experience, UX, user experience. To me, when these are done well, they are fairly interchangeable. The original definition of ‘user experience’ back in the probably 80s, really looked at the end-to-end experience of a customer from thinking about buying something or researching something or fitting it in their car. It wasn’t just the digital experience.  

I think the definition has changed over time. We think of UX as just a digital experience, and we might think of a CX as these other experiences. Or we think of the customer pays us, the user uses it. But I find as soon as we make that break, we start catering to the people who pay us, and we turn the people who aren’t into pawns we manipulate. 

So I just like to think that everybody is a customer in one way or another. They’re part of our ecosystem. We probably can’t grow or succeed without all of them. They’re all important. And so I think of a lot of things as CX.  

Rich: Awesome. That was definitely helpful. Thank you. So still trying to keep starting slow. We want to talk about behavior-based marketing. What is, in your definition, behavior-based marketing, and how does it differ from demographics-based marketing that maybe we’re more familiar with?  

Debbie: Yeah, absolutely. So when I think about demographic -based marketing, it’s often how can we figure out what buckets to put somebody in from the perspective of… take me. How old is Debbie? What is Debbie’s ethnicity? How much money does Debbie make? Where does she live? How many children did she have? And what brands does she tend to feel loyalty to?  

And then there we create a segment or persona. And we say, we assume, or we stereotype, and we figure, okay, Debbie is 51. Debbie makes this much money. Debbie’s like this. And we assume Debbie’s probably like a lot of other people her age or gender or who made certain life decisions to work in a certain field or live in a certain place. And then we adjust our marketing on the assumption that Debbie falls into a bucket of people like her. 

But what would probably be a better way to go is if we are putting people into those buckets or segments or personas, to consider who behaves like Debbie? What if Debbie is a 51-year-old white person, but there is a 23-year-old black person who makes similar decisions to Debbie, who perceives a certain task or product similarly? Now we’re not dividing people based on these other differences.  

We’re saying, what if we looked at their decision-making behavior? What have we looked at some of their buying behavior or comparison behavior or things like that? Maybe I shop for a motorcycle similar to somebody who looks nothing like me. But then if you put Debbie in the 51-year-old woman bucket, I can tell which companies do that because I see what ads you give me. And there’s a big difference between the ads I get because I’m in the 51-year-old, let’s just say it out loud – menopausal woman bucket – versus the Debbie just as a human with certain behaviors and hobbies and likes and obsessions. The internet knows where I spend my money. Why are you showing me this other weird stuff that you think is for the 50-year-old woman?  

Rich: So I’m thinking to my time when I’ve done Google ads or Facebook ads for clients. And it always seems to me that there probably is behavior, I know there are behavior type things in there, but it does seem to be more demographically based or even biased. Are there ways in our own marketing that we can see where some of these problems are and avoid them? Or are we just stuck with some of the tools that we have today? 

Debbie: I don’t want to feel that anybody is stuck. But I’m sure a lot of companies feel like we’ve always done it like this, and it’s probably working, but I would definitely challenge companies to have some tough conversations and ask, is it really working? 

When so many companies probably come to you and me and other people and say, “We’re having trouble adopting new customers. We’re not getting the satisfaction scores that we want. We’re having trouble with customer loyalty or retention.” Then we have to say to ourselves, okay. At least one thing here isn’t working and probably a bunch of things. 

So I would say some things that you can look for in some of your own activities or behavior internal to your company, are we going with stereotypes? Start there. Are we going with a stereotype about a person because of their socio-economic status, or their ethnicity, or their age? There’s so much bizarre stuff I get online. Because as a 51-year-old woman, they assume I have children, which I purposefully didn’t have children, or that I might even be close to having grandchildren. And all of this makes no sense because everybody else, Google knows enough about me to know I don’t have children.  

And so I think the first thing we can look at is, are we stereotyping people? And I think the second thing we can look at is, are we fulfilling our own brand promise and our company values in the way that we perceive and treat our customers? 

That is important because if we say we have #empathy and we care about customers, we put them first. And I say, okay, but what is acting on that look like look like and are you still having empathy and care and honesty and transparency if you lump me in a bucket with other 50-year-old women for whatever good or bad reason? 

So I think those are two things where we can try to have a little bit of corporate self-awareness and see if we’re making some mistakes.   

Rich: I love everything you’re saying. And you can probably see if anybody’s watching the video, they can see all the Spiderman’s in my back. And I don’t think a guy, if we’re being transparent about age, I don’t think most 55-year-old guys are in the Marvel Universe bucket, although maybe these days they are. But whatever the case is, I know I skew a little nerdy compared to some of my contemporaries. 

So I understand where you’re coming from. And I know from our previous conversations that you did do work with some startups. So obviously with startups, there’s often only assumptions, there’s not any customer data. So if we are starting with nothing, if we’re that motorcycle company or that comic book company or a web design company, selling meat online, whatever it is, how do we get started with this so we make sure that we’re talking to the right Debbie and not just to some generic bucket that has 50-year-old women in it?  

Debbie: And usually we are starting with demographic buckets because that’s what we understand most. Like a client will say to me, “We think we’re going for moms of kids who have behavior problems.” “We think we’re going for millennials who have financial trouble.” Okay, got it. So you’ve got some things there that are demographic, but you’re also starting to bring in something about their life, or situation, or choice, or behavior. And that’s where we start to break out of those buckets.  

Because the people I talk to, don’t just say to me, “We’re looking for moms.” You’re not just looking for moms or soccer moms or moms of a certain age, you’re looking for moms with kids with let’s just say behavioral issues. Or if you’re selling meat online, you’re looking for ravenous carnivores. These could be of any ethnicity, religion, language, sexuality, et cetera. And I think we do ourselves a disservice when we try to put them into those buckets.  

So where do we start? We usually start with either we want to build a thing, or we want to address this audience and we’re not sure yet what’s the right thing. Or sometimes a little of both. We think this thing could address this audience. And usually where I’m starting with clients is, let’s see if this is a real problem. Let’s see if this is a solution in search of a problem. Or if there really is an opportunity here to provide something to a reasonable sized audience who will benefit from that and be likely to join, be happy, stay, etc. 

And a lot of people think that the next step is surveying people. To quote a band I used to love, “If we built a low-fat, diet, crunchy shampoo, would you like that, would you buy that? How much would you pay for low-fat, diet, crunchy shampoo?” And then we get that back and from there we try to make our predictions and our plans and our strategies. But I think that it’s too early in the process for someone to know. Because if I say, hey, do you think you would like a cup to drink some liquid out of? You go, yes, of course I want a cup to drink liquid out of. Now you’re thinking of a cup. I can’t see what you’re thinking. You could be thinking of a Spider Man cup. You could be thinking of a very small children’s cup. Now, I drink out of a one-liter cup that I got from a restaurant supply store. If I say, great, everybody in the survey said they needed cups, let’s give them cups the size of their head. We might find we didn’t have product market fit.  

I think we have to start by being honest about where our assumptions are, or as I like to call them, OGA – opinions, guesses, and assumptions. We think people might want this. We think that if they’re anything like us, or if they have this problem, they’ll want this solution. But that’s already layering on some guesses in our guessing lasagna. So we have to be careful of guesses and assumptions, and start to do the good research work, or bring in the researchers who can do the good research work, to make sure we convert opinions, guesses, and assumptions into evidence, data, and knowledge. It costs us less than we think, because otherwise we end up in cycles of guessing lasagnas and those get risky and expensive.  

Rich: So I want to follow up on the researchers in just a minute, because I know that’s where your expertise lies, and I want to dig into that.  

So let’s say that we’re a startup, or let’s just say we haven’t been paying enough attention to who our customers are. And let’s be honest, most of us have made that mistake at some point during our business careers. How do we start to figure out that it’s not buckets of demographics, but buckets of behavior? And how do we actually put that into action?  

So if I know, for example, that my podcast listeners some that might be shower installers, and others might be CPAs, and others that might do meat delivery online, and all these different things. How do I start to think about that in a way so I can actually market to these different audiences and start really reaching them and engaging with them?  

Debbie: I find that the key to that is, do you know the answer to ‘why’? A lot of times the company will say, hey, we weren’t able to attract the people we wanted. We’re not getting good NPS or satisfaction scores. People aren’t loyal. And I go, okay, interesting. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Do you know why? And usually they’ll say, “We think…, and I go, a-ha, hold on a second. I know you probably have some guesses, assumptions, opinions about why. Do we know why? 

And I think once we have that tough conversation where we say, you know what? I’m not sure why. And I say, let’s start with the simple things that we can find easily through research. Let’s go with our voice of the customer data. Let’s talk to salespeople. If we have them, let’s talk to customer support. If we have them or client relationship people, whoever you might have, those people are very close to the customers. And they won’t know everything, and some things will be filtered through their lenses, but they will have some initial data on why didn’t we win that customer? Why did that company leave us? Hey, customer support, what are the top three complaints you’re hearing this week, this month? And we can start to get a sense of, we still don’t totally know why, but we can start to paint that picture of what is going on here. Go read your ratings.  

I once said to a company, “Hey, I’ve been looking at your iOS app ratings from the last few weeks and nearly every new rating you’ve gotten is a one star out of five. And then I went and checked with your internal teams, and they all said that these complaints are true, that nobody is exaggerating. These aren’t made up. All of these complaints are truly poor things that are happening in the app. When are we going to prioritize fixing these?” And they said, “We don’t have any plans to work on those things. We don’t have any plans to work on those things. “And I said, why not? These are real problems. And they said, “But our app’s got a 4. 6.”  

And so I think we should also be listening for not only do we know the whys and why nots, why didn’t someone sign on, why didn’t they, why did or didn’t they. But also do we hear ourselves making excuses for poor outcomes, poor quality, product or feature failures, A/B test or multivariate test failures. If we’re making excuses like it’s probably good enough, they’re just complainers, they wouldn’t say that to our face. Cross off your #empathy and think about having that tough conversation. We don’t know ‘why’, and we need to care. 

Rich: I think you brought up a bunch of great points there. And the whole ‘why’ thing is, I think, really critical as well. So just to follow this through. So the first step, if I’m understanding you correctly, is understand why these people buy. Because then we might be able to find similar people who we can market to.  

Is there a next step or a magic way of really approaching this, so I can take what I learned from maybe a small group of my initial buyers or customers, and then be able to figure out where do I put this message, where do I market it? Do I find like-minded groups? You talked about being targeted because of your age or your gender or the fact you have kids. And I think I get some of the same stuff. But when I start watching woodworking videos, suddenly Facebook seems to know I’m watching them on YouTube and stuff like that. So there are those behavior-based stuff. How can we maybe implement when we start to see signs of what that ‘why’ is that we can take advantage of it? 

Debbie: Yeah. And I think that some of the keys there, like it makes me think about a call I had with a startup a couple of months ago. And they said, “So we believe we have product market fit. We have X thousand customers. They’re loving us. They’re staying with us. This is great. And we got nearly every Facebook influencer to promote us. Now that we want to go out and do more deliberate or broader marketing or grow, we realize we don’t totally know our customers. We found them because of this one Facebook influencer, and we got lucky.” And so the idea was we could do the research into these people to help answer that question. So the question is, if we start to learn ‘why’, what do we do now? 

So what we normally do and recommend – if you’re not hiring us – is there’s something out there called task analysis. It’s a much deeper version. You hear people talk about jobs to be done. We should know the users or customer’s job. But in reality, what you and I do when we are shopping for things, buying things, it goes beyond the simplicity of, I have a job. And it goes much deeper into what we call task analysis, which is the entire end to end process, but still deeper than you have in a customer journey map.  

So let’s say for example, you’re going to be shopping for logo pens. This is a project we did a few years ago, a custom promotional products company. And they said, “All we know is our customers are B2B and B2C. We know almost nothing about them.” So we found a bunch of B2B and B2C people and we started interviewing them. Then we had them share their screen. We said, “Pretend you’ve got $1,000 dollars. You need to buy 125 logo water bottles for your company. Go.”  

And we let them go to any website, do any Google search, do whatever they would naturally do. We also asked them questions before about their decision-making process. Who else is involved in this? Who are the collaborators? Who’s the approver? How do you decide the budget? How do you know if you’re making shirts for the golf outing or water bottles? And then we ask them questions about things that happened later and things that happened in between. But we also had them share their screen and we watched them do a task the way they would naturally do it. 

Oh yes, first I would go to this company because I’m loyal to them. Or, first I go to Google Shopping to try to find the best price, whatever they did. And we watched 27 people do this. And we saw beyond the task. The task seemed simple: get water bottles. Okay. But the depth was, for example, people said, “Oh, $1,000, 125 water bottles, I’ve got $8 per bottle.” But I ask you, Rich, do they have $8 per bottle?   

Rich: I think there’s a setup fee. I don’t know math all that well, but I’m sure there’s a setup fee and there’s these other things and their shipping and all this sort of stuff. So maybe they have $6 a bottle.  

Debbie: And you are correct, sir. And what we saw was 27 people took out a calculator or opened up their phone and put their phone in calculator mode, and they said, “Oh, I’ve got $8.” Except one woman who said, “I’ve been down this road before. I probably have $6”, which you just said, “I probably have $6 because you’re going to take setup fees and shipping and taxes and imprint charges and whatever.”  

Now what does this mean? This means we go beyond just the surface knowledge we tend to have a task of a task or customer journey and we now say, what tools do they use? Calculator. What knowledge did they have? One woman had knowledge. You had knowledge. And what about workarounds? People often add steps or things to their task to band-aid it, to try to make it go better. The problem is, if you just survey them or you ask them about their task, they don’t always tell you about workarounds because it’s the little magic pixie dust they sprinkled on that makes this better. It’s the notes at their desk or whatever it might be.  

So task analysis helps us go deeper into this so that we can really see where do the true steps of something go well or poorly to see those ‘whys’. And to see where the opportunities really are. Because we get it, job to be done, we know what that is. But do we know it at the level of ‘why’ and root causes and where an opportunity might be? How do we start implementing this?  

First, we would be doing that research. Usually it’s the observational research that is better than just interviews or diary studies or surveys or focus groups. And then we take that, and we start mapping out the way different people did the task, who else was involved, how they made decisions. Now you have real interesting profiles of people. It’s almost like you’re a police profiler. Okay, these people do this with this, these people, and because of the bureaucracy at their company, they need this paperwork, and they want to have this type of relationship to feel trust. All of a sudden you have this amazing world where you really know how you can start reaching these people.  

Rich: Awesome. And so what you’re so you just took things next level and that’s when we’re working with a company like you that has researchers and can do all this because this probably is more than a small business owner or marketer wants to take on to themselves. 

They might do it with one or two people. But when you talked about your researchers, this is what yeah. The work that they’re doing to bring back these kind of results once they have these results. What is the next step for the company? It’s okay, now I know that people are going to go through these processes that the majority of people don’t understand shipping or set up costs, whatever the case may be.  

How do you then advise your client to take advantage of this and work it into their marketing, or their processes, or their customer experience?  

Debbie: So typically the outcomes and outputs of the research are not just, hey, we learned some stuff and here’s a couple of maps of tasks and good luck. We like to give people a lot of strategic advice. Sometimes we’re suggesting business model ideas, ecosystem ideas, product and feature ideas, marketing ideas.  

And so the idea is now that we get to know these people, so we start by constructing, instead of personas or segments, we create behavioral typologies. So we look more at the behavior of people than demographics, because demographics in a sense don’t really matter. It matters how people did things and what their tasks look like.  

Once we have that, we also give our clients a list of problem statements written from the customer user’s perspective. This person has this problem. Then we give them the evidence that we have of this. Here’s eight quotes from different people that show us this problem is real, it exists, here’s how it manifests. And then we give them advice on what are some high level ideas that we have that could address this problem. But hey, if you don’t love our ideas, that’s fine. Take the problem statement, create your own solutions and ideas. Totally fine.  

So this is definitely a step-by-step process where you’re continually building on the knowledge and evidence that you have, mapping some stuff out, and looking at where are those opportunities. Because to me, the opposite of that is, I think people would like cups. Let’s just make some and see what happens. Or things that fall into what I call the guessing lasagna, or lots of cycles of A/B testing where we’ve forgotten how wasteful and risky that can be. And so these are the steps that people should take. 

If they have a research budget, groovy I know that very often for these projects, we are charging give or take $70,000. For some people that’s inexpensive and unbelievable and a bargain. And for some people that’s absolutely unattainable and something they can’t consider at this time. So we need to modify how they’re going to try to do it themselves, or instead of bringing in my company they bring in a freelancer. Bring in one freelancer for a few months. Make sure they are senior, lead, principal, high-level people. And hey, in late 2023 when we’re recording this, tens of thousands of them have just been laid off from famous companies. You have your pick of the litter. You can have a wonderful freelancer who’s looking for something to do and would love to show you the power of great research. And maybe you can get them at – don’t lowball them – but maybe you can get them at a good price.  

Rich: A fair but equitable price for sure. Debbie, this has been great and very eye opening. And I think a lot of people hopefully are going to be rethinking the way they’ve been targeting and doing their marketing up until now. 

If people do want to learn more about you, either to hire you or to follow you to learn more tips and advice, where can we send them online?  

Debbie: Yeah, thanks so much. So the main website to go to is customercentricity.com and most of my stuff is there. You can also find me, I’ve got a YouTube channel, it’s called CXCC for Customer Experience Customer Centricity. Of course, there is my super fun book, Customers Know You Suck, and that is out there in the world as we know it.  

But those are some key places to find me. You can also find me on LinkedIn as Debbie Levitt. But in general, I would say if you have a question, I love answering questions at least a little bit for free, so please find me, track me down, book some time with me. I would love to hear what’s going on at your company and see if I can give you some advice. And if there’s a project we can do, great. But if not, I’ll at least try to get you going in the right direction.  

Rich: Awesome. And we’ll have all those links in the show notes. Debbie, thank you so much for your time today.  

Debbie: Thanks, Rich. Good luck, everybody. 

Show Notes: 

Debbie Levitt is a CXO at Delta CX with extensive experience as a CX and UX consultant. She’s known as “Mary Poppins” for her ability to improve everything she touches. Look out for her new book, Customers Know You Suck, and check out her YouTube channel for loads of valuable content & tips. 

As President of flyte new media and founder of the Agents of Change, Rich Brooks brings over 25 years of expertise to the table. A web design and digital marketing agency based in Portland, Maine, flyte helps small businesses grow online. His passion for helping these small businesses led him to write The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing, a comprehensive guide on digital marketing strategies.