This excerpt is from my new book, E-X-I-T-O: Su estrategia de marketing digital en 5 pasos. In English, that is – E-X-I-T-O: Your Digital Marketing Strategy in 5 Steps. Click on these links to read the first excerpt and second excerpt.

We begin with an unforgettable story that inspired my co-authors and I to include this second step of our E-X-I-T-O process where we put ourselves in the shoes of the customer. It is the story of Dan Ariely, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of the book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.

Take a look at his photo below. You can see a scar on the right side of Professor Ariely’s face from his nose down to his jaw. That is the result of a terrible accident that burned 70% of his body when he was 18 years old, which led him to pursue his life’s research: behavioral economics, the study of human judgment and decision-making.

Ariely spent over three years recovering from this severe burn. During his daily bath, his nurses soaked him in a disinfectant solution, quickly removed his bandages and then scraped his dead skin off, an exorbitantly painful process. Every day, the nurses routinely ripped off his bandages as quickly as possible. They theorized that patients prefer having bandages removed quickly versus slowly. In addition, they assumed that there was no difference between two methods of removing the bandages: starting at the most painful point on the body and working towards the least painful point, versus starting at the least painful part and advancing to the most painful area.

His academic career and research brought him to study this very issue: pain management. Ariely discovered that patients feel less pain when nurses carry out treatments with lower intensity over a longer duration as opposed to treatments with a high intensity and short duration, like those his nurses performed.

Years later, Ariely returned to visit the very nurses that treated him in order to present his findings. The results surprised them, but the response from his favorite nurse surprised him just as much. She pointed out that removing the bandages quickly enabled nurses to shorten their own torment and suffering that they vicariously experienced while administering these treatments.

Ariely wrote, “If the nurses, with all their experience, misunderstood what constituted reality for the patients they cared so much about, perhaps other people similarly misunderstand the consequences of their behaviors and, for that reason, repeatedly make the wrong decisions.” Hence the name of his book: Predictably Irrational.

Let’s compare the following two sets of photos. Is the marketer, who encourages all of us to “buy now,” versus the customer who wants us to “solve my problem” any different from the nurse and patient relationship that Ariely described? Not really.

The following study from IBM shows us that Ariely’s findings are true in social media as well. IBM’s Institute for Business Value uncovered significant gaps between what customers want and businesses think they want in their social media engagement.

Consumers desire tangible value such as “discounts” and coupons on a company’s social networking pages, while businesses feel that customers want to learn about new products. The table below highlights what IBM calls the “Perception Gap,” just as Ariely could have named this difference between nurses and patients.

Source: IBM Institute for Business Value – From social media to Social CRM: What customers want, 2011

“Most customers want to use social media for personal reasons … to connect with friends and family, not with companies. Consumers are willing to interact with businesses if they believe it is to their benefit. Survey results show that businesses are three times more likely to think consumers are interested in interacting with them to feel part of a community. It’s clear that businesses are overestimating consumers’ desire to engage with them to feel connected to their brand.

“In reality, these two activities are among the least interesting from a consumer’s perspective. So, what does this data tell business executives? First, they should assure that they are getting continuous direct consumer feedback about their social media initiatives. Are they working? What needs to change? What is the perceived value to the customer (as compared to the expected value from the company’s perspective)? As the report suggests, businesses need to stay laser focused on customer value to avoid falling into the perception gaps they’ve uncovered.”

Ultimately, both Dan Ariely and the IBM study show us how important it is to put ourselves into the patient’s and the user’s shoes. As we explained in the introductionwe recommended using “personas” of our customers to create our marketing plans and user-centered website designs. Developing “personas,” or “profiles,” of our customers and patients provides an effective way to facilitate seeing their perspective in marketing communications.

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